Daily Express
INDEPENDENT NATIONAL NEWSPAPER OF EAST MALAYSIA
Established since 1963
Major school tragedy averted

Published on: Friday, January 17, 2014

TAMPARULI: Quick thinking by the headmistress of SK Bawang, here, to stop lessons and have the parents of the school pick up their charges early probably saved them from being victims of a major tragedy on Wednesday.

A mud landslide crashed onto one of the school's wooden classroom buildings at 11.30am soon as the teachers and pupils had gathered in a cabin classroom to wait for the parents to pick them up.

That's when they heard the sound of rocks rolling down a hill behind the school. The loosened earth destroyed much of the building and spilled over to the school's assembly ground.

"Lucky for us no one was there," said SK Bawang headmistress, Rosmary Jamari, Thursday. She denied rumours that the pupils were sent home early because of the landslide.

"We decided to stop lessons that day as the rain did not stop and flood waters were rising," Rosmary said, adding she then instructed the school's teachers to gather all the students into the cabin classroom in front of the school.

While some pupils who lived nearby were sent home by teachers, some parents were called up by phone to pick up their children.

They were 124 pupils in the 40-year-old school that shut due to the disaster.

"Those who were left behind were all waiting in the cabin classroom," she said. About 10 minutes before the incident, Rosmary said she received a call from the primary school's former Parents, Teachers Association Chairman who told her to evacuate immediately as he sensed a landslide was about to take place.

"He was living on top of the hill behind the classroom.

Before the landslide happened he said he saw cracks in the hill and water flowing out," she said. Moments later everyone heard explosions, but it was actually the sounds of rocks rolling down the hill due to the landslide.

Tonnes of mud gushed down the hill and destroyed one of the school buildings that housed the "Kelas Agama" (Religious Class) and the Kemahiran Hidup classrooms.

It wrecked the wooden classroom, bending its wall out and burying its floor deep underneath, while spreading more than 50 metres wide, affecting also the school canteen and the assembly ground.

"We were told a building will be built on safer ground.

But I don't know when this will materialise," she said.

She expects classes to resume next week as cleaning up will take another two to three days to complete.

Meanwhile, five schools remained shut on Thursday while waiting for the flood water to subside and clean up work to complete.

Education Director Datuk Jame Alip said if the weather continues to be fair classes can resume within two to three days.

Intermittent heavy rain since Tuesday forced 13 schools in four districts to be closed affecting some 2,000 pupils due to flooding and landslides.

Jame said while the rest of the schools had reopened, the ones which remained shut are SK Kesapang Kota Belud, SK Lipang in Kinabatangan, SK Sin Boon in Sipitang, SK Pituru Kota Belud and SK Bawang.

The situation has affected 518 pupils.

"The other schools have now resumed schooling sessions," he said, here.

Except for SK Bawang where he said classes would continue as usual at cabin classrooms to replace the building destroyed by the landslide.

"We have also spoken to the Public Works Department and a new classroom building will be built on safer ground.

We are now waiting for them to respond on the new location," he said.

Meanwhile, he could not yet ascertain the department's losses from damaged properties and building due to the disaster.

Jame was also at SK Bawang along with several education and Public Works Department officers to assess the situation.