Tue, Jan 07, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Classes finally reopen in Philippine typhoon zone

AFP, TACLOBAN, Philippines

Schools reopened yesterday in badly damaged central Philippine towns for the first time since one of the world’s strongest storms ever to hit land killed thousands two months ago.

Crowding into makeshift classrooms built from tarpaulins and plywood, the children — many of them still traumatized — sat quietly as teachers tried to engage them in friendly banter.

Mothers refused to leave the tents despite appeals from teachers to let the children slowly resume their daily routine, a reporter said.

“Only about 50 percent of our school’s nearly 1,000 pupils are back,” principal Maria Evelyn Encina said in the seaside village of San Roque near the central city of Tacloban, where giant tsunami-like waves triggered by Typhoon Haiyan wiped out entire neighborhoods.

She said at least nine students had been among the dead, although the fate of many others and their families remained unknown.

“They could be in evacuation centers or taken in by their relatives in the mass evacuation that followed,” Encina said. “But we can’t know for sure. We just want to let them know wherever they are that we are here waiting for them.”

What passes for a community learning center now are desks under a white tent donated by relief organizations.

It sits about 50m from the sea, in an area that the government has officially dubbed a “permanent danger zone,” the principal said.

“We need a more permanent structure in the longer term, but in the meantime, this will suffice,” Encina said.

Haiyan cut a swathe of destruction when it struck on Nov. 8 last year, bringing powerful winds that topped 315kph. It also triggered giant storm surges which swamped large areas, leaving nearly 8,000 dead or missing and nearly 30,000 others injured.

It also displaced 4 million people, 1.7 million of them children, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The agency along with other groups is leading a campaign to help about 550,000 children, teachers and daycare workers return to schools.

“UNICEF’s objective is to ensure that children affected by typhoon Yolanda [Haiyan’s local name] return to quality learning as soon as possible,” the group’s officer in charge in the Philippines, Angela Kearney, said.

By re-establishing a daily routine, UNICEF says it hopes to transform schools into “safe spaces” that provide some sense of normalcy.

It said that with children back in school, parents would also have more time to rebuild their ruined homes.

However, with memories of the surging, towering waves still fresh, mother of six Milet Labrado, 42, was not taking any chances.

“The school is just too near the sea, and we survived by clinging to each other,” she said, while anxiously watching her youngest, a six-year-old boy, mingle with his classmates.

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