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Monday, June 29, 2009

CHILDREN'S SAFETY PLEASE

I can only imagine the wretching outcry and the confused anguish in hearing over 100 little voices, ranging from one to five years old, screaming out for help as they are engulfed in a grease fire. Imagine being 4 years old and the windows are too high to reach up, the doors padlocked closed, and the front door locked. You have no idea where your teacher is. Your classmates are all scurrying about running in circles or the more frightened kids are squatting, huddled together frozen in absolute shock under a Playschool bridge. Your heart doubles its beat and you feel fear consuming you as it becomes more difficult to breathe and the plush yellow duck toy isn’t providing any comfort. All you can do is scream out for your mother. But she can’t hear you.

I can only imagine being a parent, getting the phone call at work or on the home phone, running to your car or asking a coworker to drive you to the scene, in any case you can’t get there fast enough. Later you hear that some parents were able to retrieve their youngsters after one man suddenly jumped into his Chevy truck. He rammed the side of the building three times, not anticipating his own injuries or exhaustion, before a section of the building finally gave way, releasing several bricks. Following him, two other parents gun their cars in reverse straight into the fiery building also. The third truck rams open a hole wide enough for several children to scamper out to the opening arms of panic stricken relatives and community members. Imagine seeing the head of your child as he or she escapes from the visible black smoke and the gnawing smell of oil and burning wood. Two children who manage to wonder aimlessly, collapse to the ground as soon as they inhale oxygen; it is more than their little bodies can handle. Screams are echoing in your head, your heart pumps faster, and everything around you seems to go into slow motion as you observe the ambulances, onlookers and frantic parents screaming at the top of their lungs. Your arms almost smothering your youngster. You are both crying from relief.

As you walk away, your feet barely touching the ground you notice the local police running, waving at one another towards the building. Some officers stop to console the crying parents and then out of nowhere large military trucks unload heavily attired military. That’s right, this is the land where gangs play hard ball and anyone can be taken prisoner. But was there someone’s child in the building who is at odds with the gangs? Is the business next door to the day care center owned by someone who hasn’t paid their protection? Is this just a simple mistake of someone with a blow torch who accidently ignited some flammable object in the auto repair shop?

I can imagine seeing a woman fainting from the unbelievable inner pain of such a disaster loss as reported by TV Azteca. She is being fanned, while a woman runs to a nearby leaking faucet, tears from her own blouse and runs back to bring the woman comfort while another woman cuddles her body. But this is what I read, heard and saw this morning while checking “the news”. You continue reading, hearing and seeing the video describing the 31, now 35, and finally 41 tiny lives lost. 27 are on the critical list and there are still questions regarding scrapes and burns on possibly 100 more. It is assumed that there were 142 children registered at this location. One child is burned so badly that they are risking bringing him to Shriner’s hospital in Sacramento. The number of transfers will increase as children are prepped for the risky air travel to a Guadalajara hospital.

But even the onlooker, who has never been in a fire before, who has never had children, who doesn’t live in the neighborhood, who doesn’t know any of the victims can share the human pain and wonderment of whether or not all the children made it out. Who was in charge of this center? What are the building requirements for an educational center for children in Mexico? Where were the teachers? With this many children, why don’t they have floor monitors? Were there any administrators on the site, and if so, why didn’t they get the children out immediately? Had the children ever had a fire drill? Why was the front door locked at all? Why would children be caged in a brick building where they couldn’t look out? They say this was a working class neighborhood. Were children allowed to take phones? My nieces and nephews carried phones when they were young, for the “just in case” call. How does Mexico answer this frantic and horrible situation at a state run daycare center?

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/06/05/mexico.daycare.fire/index.html#cnnSTCVideo
They say the way that a nation treats its youngest and weakest is a strong reflection on their overall attitude towards its people. Are people dispensable in Mexico? The CNN videos brought tears to my eyes and made me think of a long time friend who is teaching in Seoul, Korea. I wondered what kind of building they teach in. Are the windows so high that children can’t peer out? I don’t know about you, but I can remember being one of those dreamy kids that wondered how much longer I’d have to sit in this room and watch this teacher , because by then I know I wasn’t listening to a word he or she were saying. The clock wasn’t moving fast enough; Many times I’d try to count the dots in the white tiled ceiling and for some reason every time I would lay back in the seat to lift my pencil in order to keep the rows straight in the counting and the teacher would inevitably call on me. But that was OK because it seemed like I already knew the answer, which was why I was as frustrated as the teacher in my being in the “required” class. I enjoyed school but I never liked the regimentation part. Why do we have to stand in a straight line? What was wrong with a crooked one? Why did I have to pay attention to the middle part of the back of Kathy red hair. But the building was never on fire and I never had to experience this horrific situation.
SATURDAY, you hear that there is a mass grave being dug for six victims of Friday’s fire. The town 200 miles south of the United States border is in mourning according to varying CNN reports. We learn that some children were taken to ‘Ciudad Obregon’. And two more to Shriner Hospital’s Burn Center in Sacramento. We learn the fire was hot enough to cause the ceiling to collapse. Several more children are reported to have died from the toxic fumes in the ventilation system. CNN reports that “President Felipe Calderon traveled to Hermosillo on Saturday. The president arrived with Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont and Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova to get first-hand updates from doctors and investigators, the state news agency Notimex reported.”

The cause of the fire is still “unknown”. Meantime, Calderon has requested the attorney general to investigate the fire. We learn that six adults were also in the building. There is no mention of their condition either.

Part of this is a composite of the various news releases and the quotes are from the various sources that gave me the idea of pulling these thoughts together.

Sincerely, I wish the parents and family members my deepest prayers and my heart goes out to them for having to experience such a tragedy and the loss of their little ones.

MINERVA LEAH WILLIAMS, is a freelance writer who resides in Santa Clarita Valley. As an avid reader her breath was taken away just reading the accounts of this story.

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