Everyone will remember where they were. Like all major tragedies everyone will always remember just what they were doing when the news of yesterday’s tragic events at Villaggio unfolded. I was grocery shopping when the tweets started. I stood glued to my phone, shopping forgotten as someone tweeted that children were stuck in Gympanzee. I started to text friends to check they were OK. At that point no one knew the extent of the fire and that so many children would be lost. A total of 19 people died yesterday, 13 of those poor souls were children.
Doha’s community is close. Those that live here love the fact that it has a small town feel to it. It sometimes takes me an hour just to buy a coffee at Villaggio Starbucks as I end up chatting to so many people I know, my coffee growing cold in my hand. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone will know someone that lost a child in yesterday’s fire. As shocked as I was yesterday I was also proud to be a part of that community, as it stood as one in the face of tragedy. People were united as they poured out emotions over social networks, the only place it seemed that was actually reporting events as they took place. Local TV and radio seemed blissfully unaware what was happening, or else chose to ignore what would prove to be one of the biggest disasters in Doha.
What on earth went wrong yesterday? It’s a question practically reverberating around this small close-knit community today. One that needs answers and not excuses. Fire procedures seemed non-existent, sprinklers failed and fire alarms were never sounded. There were reports of people coming out of changing rooms to empty smoke filled stores. No staff had alerted customers, and no alarms had rang out. Photos of fire exits with padlocks are all over the Internet today. There needs to be a thorough investigation and this must never be allowed to happen again. Smoking bans now need to be enforced properly. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen people smoking sitting next to a no smoking sign. How sad that it takes 19 people to die to prompt change.
Today when I took my youngest to nursery there were no smiling faces. Everyone nodded somberly; a few wiped away a tear or two. This is a tragedy that has affected every one of Doha’s residents and that will stay with them forever. The triplets from New Zealand that lost their lives were due to start at my son’s nursery in September. Today it seems no one is smiling in Doha. Even the sun doesn’t seem quite so bright today. My thoughts are with the families that lost a loved one. Last night they were in my prayers and today I woke and thought how they would also wake and for a few seconds they would think life was just the same as normal. Then their worlds would come crashing down on them once more as they realised that their lives will never be the same again. Hug your children, call your parents and friends and make the most of life, as you never really know just how precious it is until it’s too late.