KUALA KRAI, Jan 11 ― Schools here reopened today for the start of the new year, but students in flood-stricken Manek Urai have yet to commence with lessons as cleanups are expected to last another week.
Clad in colourful casual attire and rubber slippers instead of the usual white-and-navy-blue uniforms, the students in SK Manek Urai here spent their time lounging around gawking at army personnel and volunteers, from their still wet classrooms.
This month marks the first anniversary of Yusof Ismail, 49, as the school's headmaster after transferring from his hometown of Tanah Merah last year.
He admitted that the floods, which submerged two of the schools four storeys, were a major setback.
“It's my personal challenge this year, to rebuild this school from the ground up. I am starting from square one now,” Yusof, with his black pants tucked inside a pair of yellow rubber boots, told Malay Mail Online during a visit this morning.
Earlier, he was visited by the procurement and asset management division of the Education Ministry, who dropped by from Putrajaya to check on the school's condition.
“Out of around 400 students, only 50 per cent turned up today,” said Yusof, explaining that while two of the school's blocks were already cleaned, the third one which also housed the canteen was only 60 per cent ready.
In class 3A on the ground floor, Standard Three students chatted and played around with each other while their teacher sat helplessly atop one of the new plastic tables supplied by the ministry.
“I cannot do anything today. We do not even have any chalk left,” said the teacher, who hailed from a town near Kota Baru and asked to remain unnamed.
Two water tankers arrived in the late morning to further clean the classes, where dirt still clung to the metal graters that separate classrooms on the ground floor. Even in the teachers' rooms upstairs, water from the previous clean-up still flooded the tiled floors.
As early as 11.30am, however, some parents started to pick their children up ahead of the end of school at 1.20 pm. Some students decided to follow suit, causing a male teacher to shout at the top of his lungs from the first floor: “Get back to your classes!”
“What was the point of them staying? They would just make noise with each other,” said a defiant local called Hisham, 30, who picked up his daughter who just started school today, and his niece.
It was a similar situation in the SMK Manek Urai secondary school situated 1km away from the primary school. During a visit earlier by Malay Mail Online, students in their daily clothes leaned out from the balconies, staring at the distance.
The school's grounds was still covered in thick mud worsened by the rain in the early morning, while army men were using a water jet cleaner to blast dirt away from desks and chairs.
Malay Mail Online was, however, refused entry to the school by its principal, allegedly under the direction of the District Education Office.
Next door, the Second Battalion of the Malaysian Army's Border Regiment from Batu Melintang Camp in Jeli, and the 508 Regiment of the Territorial Army from Jalan Rasah Camp in Seremban were busy trying to clear the school's squalid dormitories.
The army men and women were seen bringing out water-damaged furniture and mattresses to a dumping ground across the road.
Two-man teams worked in tandem to haul mud in wheelbarrows, one pushing it from the back while the other tug at a rope connected to it from the front.
“Today is our sixth day here. Our priority is to get their rooms clean so they can stay here,” said their commanding officer, Second Lieutenant Annur Zaqwan.
Manek Urai, over 20 km south of Kuala Krai town, was among the worst-hit areas in the recent floods which saw over 250,000 people in Kelantan displaced from their homes.
The floods caused both Kg Manek Urai Lama and Kg Manek Urai Baru to inundated, leaving most homes in ruins and the families homeless. As of this week, the victims were still reeling from the disaster.
In December, Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin postponed the start of the school session by a week after the floods, and insisted that students in about 300 schools that were affected by the floods could begin their schooling session according to schedule.
However, Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh admitted last week that out of the 165 flood-affected schools in Kelantan, only 130 would be ready for school today.