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'There were heart rending scenes'
July 19, 2004 09:47 IST
Last Updated: July 19, 2004 15:56 IST
Thanjavur collector J Radhakrishnan spoke to A Ganesh Nadar a day after a devastating fire at Saraswati Nursery School in Kumbakonam claimed the lives of 90 children.
I was attending a farmer's grievance meeting when I received a message on my cell that there was a fire in a school in a crowded locality.
The message said there would be high casualties. I told the farmers and they too agreed that I should leave immediately. I reached here in 46 minutes after the fire had started. I had been 40 kms away.
The fire had been put off and the bodies had been moved. I rushed to the Government Hospital in Kumbakonam. I had to run the last half a kilometre as there was a traffic jam.
Seventy-seven children had already died and 32 injured. The injured were in the casualty ward, the ICU and another ward.
On one hand I calmed the swelling crowd and also spoke to the news channels. Then the Chief Minister (J Jayalalithaa) visited. She visited the site, the parents of the deceased and the hospital
As a follow up the management was arrested. The entire town had assembled on the road. Miraculously all of them had a sense of balance. I requested for a volunteer force to hold hands and control the crowd. There were heart rending scenes as we shifted the bodies to another bigger hall. We began identifying the bodies and also announced the names of the injured to bring down the over all panic level.
The criminal investigation process was also started. We arranged for plastic surgeons from the Kilpauk Medical College, Chennai who rushed here. They were satisfied with the over all treatment of the children. They also ensured the survival of the remaining children.
A team of psychiatrists came too. I made arrangements for them to talk to the children who were in a state of shock, to help them get over the tragedy. The doctors would talk to the other surviving children who witnessed the tragedy.
We withdrew the recognition of the school. We have made arrangements in the neighbouring schools to admit all the children. The children would be admitted in any school they choose. Uniforms, books would be supplied free to them and they would not have to pay any fees.
We also issued instructions to all school to remove all thatched structures immediately.
Last night it was 2 am by the time the last VIP left. I again had to address the foreign media at 3 am. I hardly got any sleep.
All the bodies have been identified and the parents have claimed the bodies. Eighty seven cheques of Rs 100,000 each have been given to the parents who lost their children. This we did through the Revenue Divisional Officer. Only three cheques are still to be given. The injured relief amount we will give in the next two days.
In the evening there was a large crowd gathered outside the fire injuries ward. They were neighbours and relatives who wanted to enter the ward. I addressed them and told them that the children had open wounds. These wounds were easily susceptible to diseases. They in all their goodness to console might land up infecting the children. They dispersed peacefully.
There are only eight children in the ward here. There are four more children in two other hospitals in Thanjavur.
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