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New Orleans Universities Prepare to Reopen

Universities in New Orleans closed down when Hurricane Katrina flooded the city in August and most have not reopened yet. VOA's Margaret Kennedy has this report on plans to reopen four private universities serving 20,000 students as part of the revitalization of New Orleans.

Where students should be going to class, workers are busy cleaning up campuses hastily evacuated last August.

This is Tulane University. It has 13,000 students, is one of the highest-ranked schools in the United States, and is the biggest private employer in New Orleans. Sixty-two of its buildings were damaged in the hurricane and flood and are being dried out and cleaned up.

The same kind of cleanup is going on at smaller Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black Catholic College renowned for its pre-medical program, where almost all the buildings were damaged.

Xavier spokesman Warren Bell explains what happened in the library. "Reference books, primarily on this floor and on the lower portions of those shelves, all had water damage. The water line as I recall was about up to here in the library."

The cleanup will cost more than its insurance, and Xavier hopes to get government and private help.

Another lesser-known black university, Dillard, lost its entire campus to the flood and will need as much as two years to rebuild.

Loyola University of New Orleans, a Jesuit institution, suffered only minor damage. It has been housing National Guard security teams, and welcoming hundreds of its students back for a look at their dorms, a little shopping at the campus store, and academic counseling.

Loyola and Tulane have teamed up to make classes and facilities available to Xavier and Dillard, so all four schools will re-open this coming January

Loyola spokesperson Christine Lelong explains how important it is that the universities re-open. "Universities are a vital part of the city culture and economy. We're a major economic force in the city and the State of Louisiana."

The Internet is the lifeline to the thousands of New Orleans students who scattered across the United States when Hurricane Katrina hit. Five hundred American colleges accepted them on a temporary basis.

Loyola student Matt Simmons ended up at Texas A&M University, but is anxious to return. "Because I need Loyola back, I've got to be back. I've got to get back."

Tulane University President Scott Cowen is a major community leader. He underlines how important Tulane's re-opening will be.

"It will be a big, big impetus for the restoration of New Orleans. And then many of us at our institution will take a role in the mayor's cabinet and committees to help develop the larger vision for New Orleans."

Many on the universities' faculties and staffs don't know where they will live because their homes have been damaged or destroyed. And no one knows yet how many students will decide not to come back to the damaged city. There are many unpredictable problems.

"I don't want to kid you,” says Mr. Cowen. “This has been a terrible, terrible blow to us as an institution. You know, we didn't get to be the institution that we are today in America because we didn't have dreams; we didn't have determination. Those things will help us not only to survive and recover, but to renew ourselves."

The academic world that stopped so suddenly last August will be up and running again in just a few weeks.