TACLOBAN, Philippines - Schools reopened Monday in badly damaged central Philippine towns for the first time since one of the world's strongest storms ever to hit land killed thousands two months ago.
Crowding into makeshift classrooms built from tarpaulins and plywood, the children - many of them still traumatised - sat quietly as teachers tried to engage them in friendly banter.
Mothers refused to leave the tents despite appeals from teachers to let the children slowly resume their daily routine, an AFP reporter said.
"Only about 50 per cent of our school's nearly 1,000 pupils are back," lamented principal Maria Evelyn Encina in the seaside village of San Roque near the central city of Tacloban, where giant tsunami-like waves triggered by Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped out entire neighbourhoods.
She said at least nine students had been among the dead, although the fate of many others and their families remained unknown.
"They could be in evacuation centres or taken in by their relatives in the mass evacuation that followed," Encina said. "But we can't know for sure. We just want to let them know wherever they are that we are here waiting for them."
What passes for a community learning centre now are desks under a white tent donated by relief organisations.
It sits about 50 metres from the sea, in an area that the government has officially dubbed a "permanent danger zone", the principal said.
"We need a more permanent structure in the longer term, but in the meantime this will suffice," Encina said.