Doha’s darkest day

There was a sombre mood among Dubai mums today. A sense of loss. As though the world had tipped on its axis.

Shockwaves were ricocheting through the Middle East as we learnt more about the Villaggio tragedy in the Qatari capital of Doha, in which 13 toddlers, four teachers and two brave firefighters lost their lives as a popular shopping centre was engulfed in flames.

We might not have been directly affected, but with the three degrees of separation that is expat life, nearly everyone in Dubai has connections with Doha. Most of us have searched for childcare in a country that is not our own and every Dubai mum knows exactly what it’s like to rely on malls during the hot months.

What is unimaginable is the pain that the families must be going through. When the little ones were dropped at the mall’s Gympanzee nursery, and the teachers went to work that morning, the idea that a couple of hours later the daycare centre would be ablaze – with firemen unable to access it because the staircase had collapsed – was unthinkable.

The firefighters reportedly had to break through the roof to get to the trapped children, but it was too late. They died from asphyxiation. One family, from New Zealand, lost their triplets, aged just two.

Here in Dubai, we also watched the tragedy unfolding on social media sites, hours before the news was officially reported. On Twitter, we witnessed the panic spreading among Doha mums who didn’t know if their children were safe. On Facebook, there were photos. It was indescribably awful. We prayed it was all rumours and scaremongering. It wasn’t. Nearly 12 hours after the fire broke out, the devastating news was finally released to the world’s media.

And today, as stories of a chaotic evacuation, defunct sprinklers, floor plans that didn’t have emergency exits correctly marked and inaudible fire alarms emerge, we’re asking our children’s nurseries and schools about their evacuation plans and fire drills.

Words simply aren’t enough. My thoughts are with all the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy – and with Doha’s expat mums, a small community, who are still in shock.

9 thoughts on “Doha’s darkest day

  1. Please, everyone reading this, do check all details of fire safety. DH was talking to a health & safety officer who works in middle east and he says it is not unusual for fire exits to be locked for security reasons. Ireland had to learn its lesson from The Stardust Disaster. This fire in Doha shows what can happen when buildings/companies are not prepared for the unexpected. My thoughts are with everyone affected in Doha.

  2. Have been reading about this on another expat blog, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. The kindergarten where I work part-time had two fire drills in the last week, and I know all of us were feeling a little cross about having to herd the wiggly little ones out into the rainy morning – these events definitely put the whole exercise into new perspective.

    We have friends here in Seoul who just moved here from Quatar – the expat community is smaller than any of us realize.

  3. Thanks for writing about this. It really helps to know people around the world are thinking about our tiny community as we come to terms with this. x

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