Universities in the US South have in effect ceased to function in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Up to 100,000 students have been displaced, and many have dispersed to seek places at other schools for at least the autumn semester.
More than 30 universities and colleges in the region have been heavily damaged and are without power, telephones, web access or even mobile phone services.
"It is surreal and unfathomable," Scott Cowen, president of Tulane University, a private New Orleans institution, who has stayed on campus wrote in a message on Tulane's website.
Students are enrolling in schools across North America, and universities as far north as Chicago are letting them to audit courses and promising to enrol them for credit at no charge if their home schools do not reopen by the semester's end. Montreal's McGill University has already enrolled at least two Tulane students.
University leaders appealed to institutions outside the region to admit students on a provisional basis only to avoid harming longer term financial recovery.
The Department of Education is allowing students with loans to defer payments without penalty and urging universities to ensure students qualify for federal aid.
Although the affected universities will not reopen for the autumn semester, many plan to make use of new technologies to deliver classes electronically.
David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, said: "Despite the scope of this challenge, I know that the creative energy of more than 3,000 US colleges and universities will be brought to bear to help our Gulf Coast institutions rebuild."
Some 400 Tulane students were taken to Jackson State University in neighbouring Mississippi, only to be moved again when Jackson State's power failed. A spokesman for the Mississippi Community College system said it could be six weeks before power was restored.