Children return to cyclone-hit school

YANGON - As students filed into Middle School No 1 yesterday for the first day of classes since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar a month ago, all eyes stared skyward - at the gaping hole in the roof.

The school in Thuwana, a suburb of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, was one of 4100 schools that were damaged or destroyed by the May 2-3 cyclone, according to Unicef.

More than 100 teachers died in the storm and aid agencies estimate that about a third of the 78000 victims were children.

The government delayed the June 2 start of the new term for several schools in the harder-hit Irrawaddy delta, where entire villages were wiped off the map.

But around Yangon most schools welcomed students, despite the concerns of teachers, parents and international aid groups about safety risks to students.

At Middle School No 1, a few remaining strips of rusted corrugated iron roofing hung precariously overhead. The storm's gale-force winds shattered several of the school's windows and punched holes in its flimsy walls. Security guards outside the school shooed away visitors.

Khin Yir, a teacher from the northern Yangon suburb of Hlaing Thar Yar, said she felt it was a "bad choice" to reopen schools so soon.

With the region's infrastructure in shambles and huge demand for basic construction materials, it was unlikely that destroyed schools in the delta will be immediately rebuilt, said Unicef's representative in Myanmar, Ramesh Shrestha.

In that case, classes will be held in temporary facilities like tents or "plastic chairs covered with plastic sheeting", Shrestha said. - Sapa-AP