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Schools reopen after Philippine floods

world Updated: Oct 05, 2009 10:53 IST

Students carrying mud-stained books returned to some schools on Monday for the first time since deadly floods submerged the Philippine capital, but survivors lingered in hallways with nowhere else to go.

The chaos at schools in the worst-hit parts of Manila reflected much wider problems in the government's ability to deal with the disaster, nine days after the heaviest flooding in more than 40 years killed nearly 300 people.

Mountains of debris were still piled up around the city, more than 300,000 people remained in evacuation centres and one part of the outskirts of Manila was expected to remain submerged into the new year.

At the government-run H Bautista Elementary School in suburban Marikina in eastern Manila, assistant principal Eliza Servesa eagerly waited for her pupils to arrive while hundreds of flood survivors remain camped there.

Only three students in mismatched uniforms and carrying books salvaged from the floods arrived in the morning, passing through the main courtyard littered with debris left behind by the muddy water.

"We were instructed to resume classes today but look around, the situation will likely not allow it," Eliza said, as she led a small group of teachers in sweeping the muddy grounds.

The 40-classroom school employs about 80 teachers and, with a student population of 3,500, is one of Marikina's biggest.

It had, however, also become one of the hundreds of makeshift evacuation centres set up to give refuge to the masses of people who lost their homes, or whose houses suffered damaged, in tropical storm Ketsana's deluge.

The floods rose to six metres (20 feet) and washed away entire neighbourhoods along river banks, affecting nearly 3.9 million people.

Of the nearly 5,000 people who had rushed to the H Bautista elementary school after the floods, only about 300 to 500 remained on Monday.

The others had either gone back to their homes in the long process of rebuilding their lives, or had been taken in by relatives.

Authorities here said they were willing to let those left behind stay until the local government came up with a clear relocation plan, although they also stressed that the school system must normalise soon.

"We can't force them to leave. That is against humanitarian principles," Servesa said.

For mother-of-two Ailyn Evangelista, 39, leaving the school would eliminate all hope for her family.

"Here we have water, and toilets we can use. And if the flood waters come again we can run to the second floor. Also, we won't have to beg," she said, adding that relief items were being delivered regularly by various charities.

"Nobody wants to stay here if they still have a house to go to. But we don't," she said.
Evangelista said she also received regular medical attention at the school.

However, her right foot remains swollen after she stepped on a rusted nail while wading through flood waters, and she has not had a tetanus shot.

Eduardo Tan, his wife and two children aged five and seven, had also bunkered in a hallway, creating a fenced-in space using desks where they kept the meagre belongings they managed to salvage from their flooded home.

"We want to leave of course, but where to go is the problem," said Tan, 48. He said he had contacted relatives in the provinces to try and help them but no one had responded positively.

With 313,000 people still staying in more than 500 evacuation centres, according to the government's most recent update on Monday, authorities face a daunting prospect in finding new homes for everyone.