While many schools remained closed along the Gulf Coast through Aug. 31, student transporters said the Category 1 Hurricane Isaac could have been much worse. Still, according to news reports, Isaac coupled with high temperatures in the area resulted in the deaths of at least eight local residents.
The weather hit New Orleans the hardest on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city and resulted in more than 1,800 deaths. George Horne, a former superintendent at Jefferson Parish Public Schools and regional manager of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, said New Orleans was largely spared this time due to the trajectory and slow movement of Isaac.
Horne, who lives in Metairie just west of New Orleans, explained that Isaac was moving nearly parallel to the coast after it was originally forecast to slam directly into the area. He added that nearly all parish school districts announced on Sunday that they would remain closed through Wednesday. A few “hedged their bets” and were open on Monday, said Horne, but closed on Tuesday.
The storm essentially sat off the coast for about six hours during overnight on Aug. 30 and into the next morning. Horne said Isaac moved only about 5 miles during that span, and local residents were keeping storm drains clear amid the rain and wind that was blowing debris.
“(Isaac has still) had a major impact. It’s a big storm in terms of its breadth,” he said. “It’s affecting the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as south Louisiana, and ultimately it could cause some flooding in the drought-affected areas of Arkansas and Missouri. It’s that season, but it’s nothing like Katrina.”
He said, however, that Arkansas, Missouri and other drought-embattled states to the north could experience flooding as Isaac transitions into a tropical storm.
In Mississippi, Leonard Swilley, the state director of student transportation at the Department of Education, said about 50 percent of the school districts were closed on Wednesday, and many residents of the Gulf Coast were evacuated to Jackson, which is 180 miles north. He added that, to his knowledge, no school buses were used to transport evacuees.
Meanwhile, Alabama State Director Joe Lightsey said the the storm was weaker than originally expected as it has mostly remained west. He added that Mobile County and Baldwin County schools remained closed as were a few other districts, but that the closures were “not of any significance.” The schools were expected to reopen on Thursday.
In the state capital of Mobile, Lightsey noted that the only road closure was the causeway that spans Mobile Bay as it was flooded, but that there had been little if any rain at this writing.
“I guess we dodged a bullet. It could have been a lot worse,” he told School Transportation News. “Katrina wasn’t quite as ‘iffy.’ This one slowed down and did a bunch of things that were very odd. It was spread out, then it condensed.”