Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire In New York City

NEW YORK (AP) — A huge fire destroyed at least 50 homes in a flooded neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens.
More than 190 firefighters were trying to contain the blaze in theBreezy Point section and two people suffered minor injuries, a fire department spokesman said.
The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Monday in an area flooded by the superstorm that began sweeping through the city earlier, officials said.
Firefighters told WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street, and they had to use a boat to make rescues. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit, and the two-story home next door was ablaze and setting fire to the apartment's roof. Firefighters climbed an awning to get to the trapped people and took them downstairs to a boat in the street.
Video footage of the scene shows a hellish swath of tightly packed homes fully engulfed in orange flames as firefighters hauled hoses while sloshing in ankle-high water. Many homes appeared completely flattened by the wind-whipped flames.
The neighborhood sits on the Rockaway peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean.
In September, the beachfront neighborhood was struck by a tornado that hurled debris in the air, knocked out power and startled residents who once thought of twisters as a Midwestern phenomenon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fire in Pakistan

Factory fires kill 314 in Pakistan

Blazes highlight safety violations.

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — The death toll from a pair of devastating factory fires that broke out in Pakistan's two biggest cities rose today to 314 people, many of whom perished because they were unable to escape buildings that lacked emergency exits and basic safety equipment such as alarms and sprinklers.
The horrific toll highlights the atrocious state of industrial safety in Pakistan, where many factories are set up illegally in the country's densely populated cities, and owners often pay officials bribes to ignore safety violations.
The more deadly of the two blazes, which both erupted last night, was at a garment factory in the southern city of Karachi, the country's economic heart.
The death toll there rose to 289 people today as firefighters battled the flames for hours, said senior government official Roshan Ali Sheikh. It was one of the worst industrial accidents in Pakistan's 65-year history, and Sheikh said the death toll could rise because rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the site in Karachi.
Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation as people caught in the basement were unable to escape when it filled with smoke, said the top firefighter in Karachi, Ehtisham-ud-Din.
The building only had one accessible exit, and all the other doors were locked, Sheikh said.
"It is a criminal act to lock the emergency exit doors, and we are trying to know who did it, and why?" Sheikh said.
Relatives of the victims said the factory owner locked the exit doors in response to a recent theft, endangering the workers inside.
"The owner of the factory should also be burned to death the way our dear ones have died in a miserable condition," said Nizam-ud-Din, whose nephew died.
Workers on higher floors of the five-story building struggled to make it out of windows that were covered with metal bars. Many were injured when they jumped from the building, including a 27-year-old pregnant woman.
Another injured factory worker, Mohammad Ilyas, speaking from the hospital, said he was working with roughly 50 other men and women on one of the floors when a fireball came from the staircase.
"I jumped from my seat, as did others, and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars," he said. "That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor."
His leg was injured in the fall.
Others weren't so lucky. An Associated Press reporter saw a charred body partially hanging out one of the factory's barred windows.
The factory's managers have fled and are being sought by police, said Sheikh, who is the senior government official in Karachi. He added that authorities have placed the name of the factory's owner on the list of people who are not allowed to leave the country.
Also last night, a fire swept through a four-story shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 25 people. Some died from burns and others from suffocation, said senior police officer Multan Khan.
The factory was illegally set up in a residential part of the city. The fire broke out when people in the building were trying to start their generator after the electricity went out. Sparks from the generator made contact with chemicals used to make the shoes, igniting the blaze.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Safety Conference in Washington D.C.

On June 12, JUSTICE had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Forum on Education Abroad Standards of Good Practice Institute's 2012 conference: "Beyond the Basics of Health, Safety & Security."  We put together a 90 minute panel and flew seven of our board members to Washington D.C.

 The night before the conference, the Institute hosted a welcome reception, which Megan writes about here:

"Reza, Grace, Lauren, Sarah and I attended the welcome reception the day before the forum. We met several study abroad advisers and administrators from universities across the country, as well as some professionals in the study abroad industry. Our conversations were rewarding and productive, especially with Lili Batchelder of Lodestone Safety International and Brian Whalen, the President and CEO of the forum. Lili praised us for our work, informing us that she and several of her colleagues already use the resources available on our website. Upon hearing this, I knew that as a foundation we have already accomplished a major goal, although there will always be more work we can do. We are teaching fire safety to more people than we can keep track of. This information, infectious though benign, will doubtless save at least one life if it hasn't already. At the end of the reception, Brian proposed that we establish a task force to update the Standards of Good Practice, which the forum publishes each year, to include standards concerning fire safety.  Through this effort, we will spread fire safety education to even more study abroad staff and students."

The next day was our panel. Here is the link to the description of all the panels at the conference. Ours can be found in the 10:45-12:15 time slot:


During our panel, Reza gave a moving introduction, Grace shared her story, and Sarah talked about the Foundation's projects. I also talked about my experience with the fire in London and how much it differed from the devastating events of April, 2011.

Here is Grace's account of the experience she had sharing her story at the conference:

 "When I was first invited to share the story of the April 14 fire with the Forum on Education Abroad my reaction was a mix of nerves, incredulity, and overwhelming excitement. Never before had I shared such an intimate piece of myself with such a large audience and I was unsure whether or not I could even speak about it for so long without my emotions taking over. What I did not know, however, was that it would turn out to be a pivotal opportunity in my own recovery and an important step forward for JUSTICE.

Part of recovery is, of course, the ability to remain open and speak freely about one’s trauma. In this way, the Forum was some of the best medicine I have had in a long time. Unlike sharing the story with so many concerned friends and acquaintances, the Forum participants are in a position to make actual changes in fire safety policy that will prevent the further loss of student life. As I spoke about the fire, I realized that the room was full of solutions. Every audience member, engaged and willing to combat the apathy and ignorance surrounding fire safety that we encounter so often, made me feel as if some of the burden was lifting. Now, they know my story. Now, we all have a responsibility to do something about it."

We really felt like we were able to share our story with a caring and thoughtful group of people, and we thank the Institute for that opportunity. We were so pleased with how this conference went that we are now preparing an application for the Institute's national conference next April in Chicago.

As Reza sums it up:

"I have been thinking about the various people we met in Washington D.C. at the Forum on Education Abroad and discovered that in previous years, many subjects regarding the safety of students traveling abroad were being addressed. Unfortunately, one of the most important subjects, fire safety, had never been on the agenda. Our Foundation brought that missing piece of the puzzle to the table. There did not seem to be any resistance to learning about this important problem and we hope that our presence at the National Conference in Chicago next year will prove to be extremely effective."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

N. Zealand triplets among 19 dead in Qatar mall fire

Qatar prepared on Tuesday to bury or send home the bodies of 19 people who perished in a blaze that whipped through a nursery at a shopping mall, including New Zealand triplets and 10 other trapped children.
As investigators scoured for clues as to the cause of Monday's fire at the Villaggio Mall, a Qatari official said some of the victims will be buried in Doha on Tuesday, while most of the others will be repatriated.
"The families of four or five Muslims have requested to bury them in Qatar," said Captain Mubarak al-Bouainain, head of information department at the interior ministry.
Newspapers in the Gulf state raised questions over the licensing of a nursery in the middle of a huge mall, where the children and four teachers, including three from the Philippines and a South African, died of of smoke inhalation.
Bouainain confirmed that the dead children included the New Zealanders, four Spaniards, a South African boy, an American girl of Arab origin, a Chinese boy, a Canadian girl and an Egyptian girl and boy were killed.
The Egyptian boy also held French citizenship, the French embassy said.
He said two fire fighters, a Moroccan and an Iranian, also died.
In Wellington, Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand triplets, believed to be three-year-olds, were among those who died in the inferno.
Radio New Zealand named them as Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes.
In Madrid, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said four of the youngsters who died were Spanish, while Paris announced that a three-year-old French child also perished.
Footage posted online showed black smoke billowing from the upmarket, Venice-themed complex as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. Other pictures showed rescue workers carrying children on the roof of the mall.
The fire broke out at the Gympanzee nursery, or possibly near it.
"The first report of fire at Villaggio was received by the operations centre at 11:02 am (0802 GMT)," QNA state news agency quoted state minister for the interior Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani as saying, adding that police and civil defence reached the site within minutes.
He said it became clear that 20 children were in the first-floor nursery and "all efforts were concentrated on evacuating those kids," adding that fire fighters had to break through the roof to gain access after a staircase collapsed.
Dense smoke inside the mall combined with the fierce temperature from the flames made reaching the trapped children very difficult, a civil defence representative told a news conference.
Expatriate New Zealand journalist Tarek Bazley said he was in the shopping centre with his two children when the fire broke out, but they escaped unharmed.
"The volume of smoke coming out of it, it looked like you had 30 steam trains all pumping their smoke out above it," Bazley told Radio New Zealand.
But he said there was a lack of urgency from officials in the mall when alarms went off and complained of a "complete lack of planning, a complete lack of coordination in terms of removing people from this area."
"The first thing I heard of it was a very benign fire alarm; it sounded more like a door bell to be honest," he said.
Health Minister Khaled al-Qahtani said all the fatalities were caused by asphyxiation, adding that 17 people were injured, mostly fire fighters.
Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani ordered a commission set up to probe the blaze, Doha-based Al-Jazeera television reported.
In Madrid, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said embassy officials were trying to get more details on the four Spanish children killed.
Yamina Benguigui, the minister in charge of French expatriates, announced in Paris that a French child died, but declined to give any further details, including whether the victim was a boy or a girl.
"It is with great sorrow that I confirm that a French child aged three is among the victims," she said in a statement.
Community news Tumblr Doha News posted a note from South African Maryam Charles saying that her daughter, Shameega Charles, 29, who was a teacher at the nursery, "perished in the blaze."
It also said an 18-month-old South African was among the dead, in addition to a Moroccan fire fighter.
In Manila, a foreign department spokesman said three Filipino teachers who worked at the nursery died of smoke inhalation.
"Did this nursery meet the conditions to get a license," asked Al-Watan daily, addressing its question to the ministry of social affairs.
"We await answers over how it was allowed that kids of such age could be at a place not sufficiently equipped," it said.
"It is negligence that resembles a premeditated murder," charged Saleh al-Kawari, editor-in-chief of Al-Raya daily, in his editorial.
"This is a real catastrophe."