Canada

Walkerton kids return to school

Walkerton is slowly returning to normal, as children go back to school today for the first time since a deadly E. coli outbreak hit their town more than two weeks ago.

Schools in Walkerton have been closed for the rest of the school year because E. coli has infected the town's water supply. So 2,400 students are going to makeshift classrooms in arenas, auditoriums and churches in neighbouring Hanover.

There are five schools involved, under the jurisdiction of public and Roman Catholic school boards.

Returning to school actually comes as a relief to kids in Walkerton who have grown bored and listless with nothing to do but ride their bikes and just hang around with friends.

Bottled water is being trucked in so restaurants and businesses can also reopen. But it will be six to eight weeks before Walkerton's water supply is safe again.

On Monday, Prime Minister Chrtien said nothing is more important than protecting drinking water.

"We must preserve and protect the quality of our water and our air," Chrtien told a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. "Nothing is more fundamental."

While safe drinking water is a provincial responsibility, Chrtien says Ottawa should be more proactive.

Chrtien says more money must be spent on ensuring safe water. He pointed to the E. coli outbreak in Walkerton which killed at least seven people and made hundreds sick.

The tainted water in Walkerton is still controversial for Ontario Premier Mike Harris. On Monday, he blamed municipalities for ignoring priorities such as sewer and water systems.

Harris told reporters, "We're looking at how we can put a priority on areas of sewer and water, and perhaps even say to municipalities, 'Don't apply for a new community centre or these facilities unless your basic infrastructure is up to snuff.'"

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