Klang Valley choked in smog as thousands of schools shuttered

Maszlee says all schools including kindergartens in KL, Selangor, Penang and Putrajaya will be closed for 2 days starting today

by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE KLANG Valley was blanketed in thick smog yesterday as hundreds of schools were immediately ordered to close while many parents scurried to fetch their children in the worst environmental disaster to hit the national capital in years.

Many workers in Kuala Lumpur (KL) stayed inside buildings, while pedestrians wore masks as the haze situation worsened since morning. The streets were less busy in the central business district, but business continued as usual with little disruption.

Authorities have warned the public to avoid going outside. Several events planned over the weekend could be shelved if the situation deteriorates.

The Education Ministry (MoE) ordered more than a million schoolchildren in the Klang Valley to stay home yesterday with over 1,200 schools shuttered. In many schools, students wore masks. Some parents, when informed of the school closure, rushed to ferry their children home.

The haze situation in the Klang Valley yesterday reminded the public of the smog that hit the most populous region in the country in August 2005. The Klang Valley was covered in haze then with two areas Pelabuhan Klang and Kuala Selangor having Air Pollution Index (API) at 500 and the haze emergency was declared.

Yesterday, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said all schools including kindergartens in KL, Selangor, Penang and Putrajaya will be closed for two days starting today. An earlier announcement said 1,003,310 pupils were affected with 1,484 schools closed in seven states — namely Putrajaya, KL, Selangor, Sarawak, Negri Sembilan, Penang and Perak — as the API crossed the 200 level.

Higher learning institutions in the areas with API of 200 and above were also ordered to close amid health worries over the thickening smog.

The Nilai campus of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia had postponed all classes yesterday due to the worsening haze.

At 7pm yesterday, Johan Setia in Klang recorded the highest API reading at 256 in the peninsula, which is considered very unhealthy.

The low visibility had also caused interruptions of 20 flights in Penang.

As at 3.45pm yesterday, seven departing flights were delayed, three returned to base, eight were diverted and two were cancelled, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd officials told The Malaysian Reserve.

PT Lion Mentari Airlines, SilkAir Private Ltd and AirAsia Bhd were among the carriers impacted by the smog.

The transboundary haze has become an annual phenomenon impacting Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Indonesia is doing everything it can to tackle forest fires that rage in Kalimantan, Riau and Jambi.

“For the next few days, rainy conditions are forecast over the northern Asean region, with prevailing winds expected to be variable in direction over the Mekong subregion.”

“In the southern Asean region, the weather is expected to remain dry except for some showers over northern Sumatra and parts of Malaysia,” the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre stated on its website.

Malaysians are scrambling to buy face masks as a precautionary measure.

According to certain parties, sales of face masks surged by 100%, as reported by Bernama, while consumers are complaining that the supply was out of stocks in some outlets.