Tag Archives: Disaster

Fireproofing Our Schools

 Investigations have revealed that the fire that ravaged the *** Girls’ School Saturday was caused by five students. The girls ignited the fire in the underground floor of the school while playing with a coal holder and then ran away from the scene to their classrooms when the blaze picked up…..

In the past

In the previous years during this season we were under the threat of floods. That was after a really bad one that had rushed in from nowhere and vanished with its toll. It left the public and authorities aghast, and subsequently, alert.

Again we faced a worse flood without having much done (as far as I know) in the name of precautionary measures, except for the dinghies that had been deployed at certain ‘crucial’ points of the city.

Entry of a new villain

And this year the opposite element is the villain. Fire! Fortunately nothing went wrong all through the scorching summer heat when the air conditioners, that were knocking themselves out, were expected to blaze out.

Now when the mercury has fallen, we worry about fire. Queer!

Once again the ball is in the court of the concerned authorities. They are expected to somehow see to it that not one more school is ‘ignited’ in the near future. It must be sheer clairvoyance that has foreboded them that the succeeding months are set apart exclusively for fire accidents. Well, they have to do their duty.

The aftermath

Consequently we have been witnessing frequent inspections, mock drills, installation of more equipment, entry of new Emergency Exits, special training to the staff, demonstrations to the students on where and how to flee in case of a fire… Good job!

I could have easily made this post something like ’How to Avert a Fire’ because within a week after that accident (luckily not our school) I am almost an expert on Fire & Safety.

In short, these are some of the benefits: 1) We have picked up a lot of new terms related to fire. 2) Our girls will run for their life by default the moment they hear anything that sounds like an alarm or just the syllable ‘fi..’.

But what if it is a different disaster next time? God forbid!

The only one who seemed to take all the drama seriously was the little girl who innocently asked, “Teacher, this week will there be a fire in our school too?”

In the light of a fire (the sermon part)

We become more concerned and vigilant for a few weeks that follow a calamity. Usually nothing happens. The fear passes and we relax while the next disaster brews.  Accidents are accidental. They lurk in the least expected hide-outs to pounce upon us when we are least prepared. God forbid!

This all we could do:  Train our students to take care of themselves without losing their presence of mind during any type of emergency – tsunami, flood, earthquake or fire. Never panic (easier said than done). Be prepared for the worst in the future, without letting that loom over and spoil our present.

The Day it Rained Cats and Dogs

Rain, very scanty: that’s what the geography books say about the country’s climate. Still, every year without fail it rained, only for one single day. That had been the tradition. However, with the six or seventh rain in the last two months it is time to think about rewriting those features. Blame it all on global warming. 

Today, Wednesday, 26th January 2011, (another ominous 26th) we people in Jeddah had one common prayer and were ready to undertake any hardship to attain it, “Help us reach home safe.” The same roads which took us happily to our destinations in the morning had turned completely hostile in just three hours.

They had predicted well in advance that in Jeddah it would rain on Monday and Wednesday. It came true for Monday, but not that bad. No wonder everyone took the next day for granted. The forecasts had warned us to expect a heavy downpour that might last for about 6 hours. Mere one hours’ rain had caused a real bad flood last month.

Like others, our school too had a working day. Above all the annual photo session was to take place. Nobody wanted to appear ‘insetted’ in the magazine, so attendance was full.

At 11 a.m. thunder and lightning foreshadowed it. Still we were unmoved because the sky didn’t look so cloudy. We had witnessed worse in the last few weeks. The tone of the rain intensified from pleasant to dismal and soon to portentous – touching, tapping, showering, pouring and finally lashing on the tin sheets which roofed the school ground. Buses were ready in no time. The first-trippers were lucky. But I decided to stay back till majority of my girls left, safe and sound.

First the girls were asked to assemble in the ground as no one could guarantee the stability of the buildings which were not designed to withstand such harsh treatments of nature.

But the water level in the playground was rising up dangerously. Again evacuation. This time from the ground to a few of those secure class rooms. I could see tears on some of the young faces. Just rain drops – on that pretext I ignored them as there were more serious things to deal with.

I was there in one of the class rooms with some grade one boys. “Ma’m, it looks like sea, right?” asked a boy who seemed to be quite amused by the thriller show. Should I tell him about its seamy sides? No. I pretended to be equally delighted. “Yeah, exactly. I see waves. Do you know how to swim? Because if you guys keep on pushing me like this you will have dive into this sea to rescue me …”

It took two hours for our bus to return after the first trip. After helping to send the remaining few girls to the office, I boarded the bus.

The rain was still beating in. The school’s camera that was in my custody helped me capture some rare moments. Some of them are given below. My friends on Face book can see the full collection.

Gradually the horrors of rain were revealed to us. Our hearts longed for the warmth and comfort of our homes.

The weak ones being shifted to safer spots. Trash bags were in great demand as umbrellas are something unheard of (China will soon exploit the opportunity)

We could only helplessly watch the water stretching its malicious hands up to the floor of our bus.

The next scene was really distressing. Still why did our ‘captain’ decide to drive us into this? Maybe he was overconfident about the size and strength of his ‘Titanic.’

The vehicles struggling to dock somewhere.

By this time we were in the middle of the sea (I recalled the words of the grade one boy).

We could now feel the big bus almost floating. What if it capsizes? Already reports about such accidents had reached us. God save the 40 souls in the bus.

We floated on.

At last I was relieved to see the water receding from the steps.

Having no one to venture into the flood with a helping hand, the senior boys decided to take up the role of rescuers and after their long struggle we were in safer waters.

But the problem was not over. The bus which already had had enough refused to move any further.

What followed was an infinite wait. With the rain still continuing it was not safe to stay there for long. The boys who longed for more adventure said they would walk (or swim?) all their way home.

There were only six girls (including my girl – she had an off for Republic Day, so I had to take her with me) in the bus. How could we teachers leave them behind? A group of two female teachers and the girls was led by the only male teacher in the bus. We formed a chain and geared up for the most gruelling tasks in our life here so far. We waded through the flood and icy rain. The underground electric cables posed unseen threat. There were cries when we stepped into the rapids. I too couldn’t help doing so when at one point I saw my girl suddenly sinking down a few inches. Thank God it was just a small pit. Finally we were there and I took three of the girls along with me.

And later in the evening I heard that about two hundred students were still stranded in the school. Many of them could not be picked up and many school buses had to return halfway. They were all accommodated in the houses of the staff in the neighbourhood. Each one will have an adventurous story to narrate!

What should we expect next? Again warning: another storm in two days. I BELIEVE IN WEATHER FORECASTS!