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.