Schools lash out at storm chaos

Top News | Kenneth Lau 11 May 2016

An early warning system is needed when rainstorms may lead to suspensions of classes, school principals said yesterday after morning chaos.

The system, it was suggested, should be functioning by 6.15am if heavy rain is likely to close schools.

The call came after parents and students slammed a decision by the Education Bureau to suspend morning classes at 7.45am -- when students were already on their way to school.

Most primary and secondary school classes start at 8am.

The Hong Kong Observatory issued a red rainstorm alert 10 minutes earlier.

The idea of an early rainstorm warning system similar to the two-hour advance warning of an impending tropical cyclone No 8 signal was raised by the Subsidized Primary School Council with Undersecretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung and Legislative Council education panel chairman Lam Tai-fai.

Council adviser Cheung Yung-pong said it would be best if parents and students knew by 6.15am that schools were likely to be closed.

"We hope the observatory can give the Education Bureau a weather situation at 6am, and 15 minutes would be enough for the bureau to make a decision."

That may prevent the chaotic scenes of yesterday, he added. Most students were on their way or had arrived at schools when the no-classes call came.

Cheung said that at his school, SKH St James' Primary, first lessons start at 7.45am, and only 23 out of some 650 students had make it there by then.

Ying Wa Primary School principal Maria Lam Woon-sum said her school's attendance rate was above 90 percent. But streets around the school in Sham Shui Po saw knee-high flooding.

Yeung admitted in a radio interview that the timing of class suspensions "was quite embarrassing."

He also said the mechanism for cancelling classes is reviewed regularly "to see if there is room for improvement."

Meantime, parents and students were voicing anger and frustration.

A woman named Ho said she had taken her young son to school and was on her way to work when she had to turn back to collect him. "It's really annoying," she said.

A student said he had only learned about the suspension when he arrived at school, "and some of my classmates were still on the way at that time."

The observatory issued an amber rainstorm alert at 6am then switched it to red at 7.35am. It was downgraded to amber at 9.35am then raised to red again at 11.20am, prompting the bureau to suspend afternoon classes.

At 1.45pm, the observatory changed the warning to amber once again, with all signals canceled at 2.45pm.

Senior scientific officer Olivia Lee Shuk-ming said the rain situation changed rapidly after 7am and the observatory issued the red alert immediately new data was processed.

She also said the observatory had been in close communication with the bureau.

Speaking in Sichuan, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said he hopes the bureau can cooperate better in future with the observatory.

And even as RTHK was giving out news about school closures, the broadcaster felt the problem directly with leaks at its Kowloon Tong headquarters. A spokeswoman said the problem came while maintenance work was being undertaken. But no equipment was damaged and service remained normal.

Among other incidents, the MTR's Sha Tin Wai station had problems because of blocked drainage pipes.

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