The gate at the entrance of the library of the Marcelino Canino school in Dorado does not open completely. The mud layer that covers the floor and the books that the water ripped off the shelves have been become a barrier that barely leaves a space of a few inches to access the room where now a musty smell reigns.
While the winds of Hurricane Maria whipped the Island with force, La Plata river joined the stream known as Chorro de Maguayo and seized everything they found on their passage. The school was in the way. Marks of the flood level –five feet high- are seen in classrooms and offices.
The force of the water dragged the fridges of the school dining room, twisted metal tubes that served as railing in a corridor and spoiled all the electronic equipment that was in the building.
Books, notebooks and pads had no chance to survive. Dozens of desks were piled on the court, hoping they would dry.
"There's nothing left here, everything was damaged," told school concierge Alexander Alvarez, one of the first to arrive once the water went down, to see what could be saved.
In the sixth-grade Spanish classroom, mud-covered desks are lined up facing the board, showing the teacher's in vain effort to undo the disaster, for behind them there are wet books piled up and a small refrigerator lying in the floor.
Twenty two days after the hurricane, the domestic economy classroom still had an inch of water. The teacher, Carmen A. Padilla López, explained that the hall has been "sinking" for some time. As evidence, there is a crack in the wall opposite the doors, and Padilla Lopez is concerned about the stability of the structure.
"I'm from Hatillo and, for two weeks, I reported to a school closer to my house. Once the gas issue was fixed, I came on Monday and found myself with two or three inches of water in the classroom," Padilla Lopez said as she was removing mud out of the classroom.
The school is just a few minutes from the José de Diego PR-22 highway, on the way to Dorado’s town center. But no government official, either municipal or state, has ever documented mud-covered chairs drying in the sun or boxes and food boxes that are rotting in the school cafeteria's warehouse, said the teachers.
Last Thursday, three trucks were lined up on the sidewalk in front of the school. The scene excited the staff, who thought they were there to help clean the school.
"When we passed by, we thought they were going to collect the school debries but it did not happen. They are cleaning the street," expressed Migdalia Rivera who runs the school cafeteria.
Nearly four weeks after Hurricane Maria, the Department of Education has not yet had a census of the number of schools that were destroyed by the cyclone or the damage to the structures.
From the Emergency Operations Center established by the government at the Convention Center in Isla Grande, the Secretary of Education, Julia Keleher, has summoned the directors of the educational regions to provide information on the situation of the schools. Between Wednesday and Thursday, she met individually with the seven officials, as stated by the agency spokeswoman Yolanda Rosaly.
On Sunday, the secretary announced in written statement that the Corps of Engineers will be in charge of visiting the schools and determining the damag they suffered.
Despite not having a clear picture of the situation, Keleher has announced in press releases that teachers and students from schools who suffered major damage will be relocated to other campuses, although the process has not been clarified.
"It will be similar to how we work when schools are consolidated," was all Rosaly said about it.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced that public schools will resume classes on October 24, although the secretary said that not all of them will be able to open on that date. However, Keleher called on all teaching and non-teaching staff to report to their work centers on 16 October.
While in the classrooms of the Marcelino Canino school humidity accumulated, in the Zenón Rivera elementary school, in Pesa neighborhood in Ciales, there is lots of light and heat in the two classrooms that lost their roofs, as also happened in the school cafeteria.
A huge tree fell behind the main structure and ended up on the yard of the kindergarten. In front of a small office, the wet pieces of ceilings that fell down have become a spongy mass on the floor.
This campus was administratively consolidated with the Francisco Serrano school, located a short distance away, and the small campus now only serves the students of the lowest school levels, said the coordinator of the Teachers Association in the region of Arecibo, Heriberto Palos.
"This is a small school, but the classrooms were really affected. There is a lot of damage," explained Palos from the campus, where there was no staff at the time of El Nuevo Dia´s visit.
For the president of the Teachers Federation, Mercedes Martinez, the lack of support from the administrative spheres of the Department of Education and other government agencies will complicate the return to classes.
"Faced with the magnitude of the disaster and the government's deficiencies, there are hundreds schools that haven´t been cleaned, they are full of debries, asbestos and fungus problems, mosquitoes and other pests, they are not fit for teaching and learning," stated Martinez .
According to teachers organizations, there are dozens -if not hundreds- of schools around the island that suffered serious damage. Classrooms left roofless, trees that fell on structures and floods are some of the main reasons why there are schools that will not be ready to reopen in the coming weeks, pointed out Palos.
"Teachers, school employees are the ones who have cleaned the schools. But they cannot do everything. We need crews, there are schools that are really in bad conditions," expressed Palos.
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