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VILLAGGIO FIRE: A TRAGEDY SILENCED

By Shabina S. Khatri, Omar Chatriwala and Julia Mills

With reporting from Riham Sheble and Victoria Scott

Smashwords edition, copyright 2013

A publication of Doha News

(CC) This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. “Doha News” and all associated products, including Dohanews.co, @DohaNews on Twitter and Facebook.com/DohaNews are owned and operated by the US-registered company Shard Media LLC. Our originally-produced content is - and always has been released under Creative Commons, so that everyone can benefit from it. We only ask that you give us credit, don’t try to make money off of our hard work, and don’t alter our work.

We dedicate this publication to all of the families who have suffered through this past year with the loss of their loved ones and have been given little in the way of closure. Thank you for sharing your stories. Your strength is an inspiration. Our gratitude also goes out to the Qatar community for the outpouring of support, information and feedback you have given Doha News as we report on this and other important stories. Finally, thank you to our parents for their support and our children, Aya and Esa, for giving up time with us as we dedicated ourselves to keeping Qatar up to date on the past year's events - not just during the workday, but also at night, on weekends and during vacations. We love you. - Omar and Shabina

Unclear Standards -Section 2 .The Day After -Section 2 .A Long Road .Bereft At Home -Section 3 .The Trial Chapter 3 .Precious Minutes -Section 3 .CONTENTS Preface Chapter 1 .Too Quiet Chapter 4 .The Fire -Section 1 .Later On -Section 3 .Open Wounds -Section 2 .Grieving Families -Section 1 .News Travels -Section 2 .The Victims Chapter 2 .Waiting for Justice -Section 4 .Tragic Truth -Section 4 .Aftermath -Section 1 .A Country of Fires -Section 1 .

Seeking Transparency Chapter 6 .A Wake Up Call -Section 3 .Media Frozen -Section 2 .Qatari Voices -Section 1 .Villaggio Now -Section 1 .Chapter 5 .In Limbo .Business As Usual? -Section 2 .

2012. In the aftermath of the fire. How are they coping. and who will be held responsible? The relatives of the victims . has given way to anger and a lot of questions. seems to have been entirely preventable. despite making bold promises in the days after the fire. the rest of Qatar’s news media appears to have fallen silent. flowers given. If there is any silver lining in this tragedy. of course: how safe are we now? Could something like this happen again? Some 365 days later. The raw grief felt on May 28. as the court deliberates over who to hold accountable for a toll that. one of Qatar's worst tragedies in recent memory. And. we have kept you up-to-date on all Villaggio-related developments. and solidarity and kind words expressed by so many residents and locals to those who lost their loved ones transcended the usual socioeconomic and cultural markers that keep us apart. Sadly. We've encountered a number of obstacles along the way. it has been the good that has come out of the community. and no one inside it survived. in reporting on the trial. hands held. food cooked.PREFACE It has been one full year since the Villaggio Mall fire. Qatar’s officials have largely stopped talking about the issue. how could this happen. prayers offered. speaking to stakeholders in the case and navigating the emotionally choppy waters of a deep tragedy with as much sensitivity as possible. despite strong coverage in the days after the fire. for all intents and purposes. . Namely. we can answer some of those questions with certainty.those left behind . one year later? And. but because most of the victims were small children in a daycare center that wasn’t evacuated.are also very much on our minds. Not just because 19 people passed away that day. For the last year. the tears shed. Other answers will take more time.

For many. the meeting of those expectations has fallen short in the past 12 months. Unfortunately.The tragedy has also raised the bar on expectations of safety. accountability and time will help to heal. But for others. -Shabina S. life has returned to normal after the fire. Doha News . Khatri. it has left a gaping hole that only transparency. with Civil Defense applying an uneven and unexplained protocol in deciding which businesses are up to code and which haven't made the cut. now that Villaggio mall reopened. Editor. among Qataris and expats alike.

of thick smoke billowing from the mall. of lifeless children being pulled from the roof .the question on everyone’s lips was.CHAPTER 1 THE FIRE As images spread across the world . of parents breaking down in tears of grief. of firefighters looking confused and unprepared. “why?” .

Photo Credit: Ministry of Interior Qatar .

and then another. and then a crooked mobile phone photo taken from inside a car. the peace of that mundane morning was broken around 11am. when the first reports of a fire at Villaggio started coming in. There was one tweet. leaving 7-year-old Isabel Vela in the play area. causing the bulb to burst and send smoldering pieces below. In this instance. and Alfonso. The plastic components of the lamp overheated. a Gympanzee employee. She had turned 29 three days earlier. it was located in the upstairs storage area of the Nike shop. The bulb was cheap. reported to work that morning after spending the weekend Skyping with her family in South Africa. the disaster really began at least 15 minutes earlier.but both were present on that fateful Monday morning. Shameega Charles. For most of Qatar. Fifteen-month-old Umar Emeran also happened to be absent that Sunday .-SECTION 1 NEWS TRAVELS Eighteen-month-old Evana Antonios woke up cranky on May 28 of last year. a daycare at Villaggio mall. . Elena Travesedo went shopping at Villaggio after dropping three of her four children off at Gympanzee . But. as she had done almost every weekday for the past three months. onto boxes filled with shoes. her mom recalls. 5. Three-and-a-half-year old Hana Sharabati had stayed home the day before because she wasn’t feeling well.Almudena. Manal Murgus dropped her daughter off at Gympanzee. 2 years old. Yolanda Mascaraque did the same. 7. Camilo. when a fluorescent tube light short-circuited in a closet. with the message: “What is going on at Villaggio? Lots of smoke!” But at Villaggio. She didn’t even want to get out of bed. and went to work. sports jerseys and other gear. commonly used in Qatar. and the cause of many of the fires here.

pic. An attempt to quell a fast-growing blaze yielded no result. Posing In The Middle Of The Fire In Villagio. News about the fire was spreading.twitter. “Ahem.” Alim Salahud-din tells Doha News.” Phone footage from inside the mall shows shoppers and staff looking more perplexed than scared. and the smoke began to spread. and perhaps fastest on social media.By the time Nike shop employees realized what’s happening. reporting live from Ground Zero.com/JZDIdgSN . it seemed to be too late. Gallery 1. But then he follows up: “Fire is getting larger. too. In fact the alarms are off. The fire isn't as big as it seems.1 – The Mall Fills With Smoke @Gigi66666: Some Random Dude.

@dohanews what is going on?? pic.com/hv6I2sKl @DohaBen: Wow this is crazy.@LivinginDoha: @dohanews what is going on at villaggio? Lots of smoke! pic.twitter.com/T1pC56er .twitter. Smoke coming out of Villaggio.

‬اللهم سلم ‪@FahadBuzwair:‬‬ ..‫صور ‪ 2‬لحريق فيلجيو ‪ .

#doha #qatar @dohanews pic.com/fAyTfddc .twitter. Fire has spread right the way down.@katiebakesx: Villagio now.

@MohsinAltaf: @dohanews i can even see ashes on alwaab street. #Qatar. Its a major fire and gate 1 and 2 all under police control. pic.twitter.com/XKAWtCGz

@Nodi_Qtr: OMG .. That #Villagio now yfrog.com/oefedzej

@susiebillings: Anyone know what's on fire at Villaggio/ aspire? #doha pic.twitter.com/theUTfgx

Meanwhile, smoke spread quickly through the mall’s air vents and along the ceiling, growing thicker and more toxic after making contact with flammable paint used to evoke in shoppers’ minds an idyllic day in an Italian hill town. Directly adjacent to the Nike storeroom – ground zero – is a hallway, a security monitoring office and Gympanzee, where 13 children, a teacher, two assistants and an accountant were spending their morning. An expat who was working in the Via Domo luxury section of the mall at the time recalls not taking the fire seriously when she heard about it. "We were led to believe that the VIP section was going to be OK. 'It's far enough away,' people were heard muttering, but what people didn't realize was the fire was raging out of control. It was now in the roof space, it was in the vents - all areas we mutually shared. It was starting to drift through to our area,” she said, asking to remain anonymous to protect her job.

taking photos. I often think. but other say they saw actual flames at Nike and the nearby GoSport shop." . before us! As we went to leave the building. Alarms could be heard in some stores.. until they either saw the smoke or heard panicked people yelling at everyone to exit quickly. the mall employee said: “I live near Villaggio and for hours after I got home the sound of sirens rang out.was left in changing room at Zara and staff left without telling me. Came out and store was empty!” tweeted Ellora Coupe. evacuation efforts were also half-hearted. local boys had covered their faces with their scarves and were taking pictures of themselves in the smoke next to the luxury cars that you could now barely see. had I been made aware of what was happening that day?’ I guess now I will never know.” Elsewhere in the mall. “Got out of Villaggio before fire broke out . she remembers many were still inside. hovering.As she and her boss evacuate the mall. She recounts: “Just as we made to leave.. Some witnesses guess the fire is coming from the food court. They were removing the cars from the building. the cars were being removed. the cars were already waiting at the traffic lights. As we got out to the carpark. lingering. Reflecting on the ordeal. ‘Could I have done something. The only thing that you could see was their reversing lights. but few shoppers were taking them seriously.

On-site. against his advice. It’s 12:05pm. the government entity tweeted. More emergency workers pour in by the minute. calls her husband.-SECTION 2 PRECIOUS MINUTES Inside Gympanzee. as well as police roadblocks and exiting shoppers. Gympanzee employee Julie Ann Soco also calls her husband in the Philippines.’” Aban testified in court months later. some just moments after the first sightings of smoke. But at this point. and the Ministry of Interior announces that everything’s OK. the smoke in the narrow hallway leading to the daycare is already too thick and too hot to move the kids. According to one account. Louie Aban. and everything is not OK. ‘don’t. to come and help them. the nursery staff was told by security that everything was under control. asking him to hurry. But before he arrives. she calls once more. “I told her. to tell him about the fire. And the smoke appears to be dissipating. due to the incoming emergency response vehicles.’” Amid a worsening situation. Traffic in the area is horrendous. . this time to say goodbye. minutes slip by and Maribel Orosco. Fire officials had already arrived on the scene. a 29-year-old accountant. “She told me she had to ‘let go. 10 minutes past 11am. but some people are being treated for smoke inhalation. She tells him that she is staying with the children. a malfunctioning sprinkler system and no floor plans. the rescue effort is chaotic and poorly trained firefighters are battling to put out a blaze with no emergency lighting. Orosco calls her husband again. adding that his wife's breathing sounded labored. But appearances can be deceiving. There are no serious injuries.

Outside the mall entrance. Gympanzee co-owner Iman Al Kuwari is trying to get Civil Defense to understand: there are children inside! Raghda Al Kabbani. whose 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Hana Sharabati is at Gympanzee. but the heat and the smoke force him to turn back.” Aban recalls. so firefighters suited him up to go in. as a crowd of shoppers look on. but none are allowed in. “It was completely dark.” Video located at: http://www. He knew the way to Gympanzee. with the exception of Orosco’s husband Aban. I felt hot and some air – like a fan.youtube. is yelling the same. We only reached GoSport. A number of frantic relatives are pressing in around the entrances of Villaggio. like you’re closing your eyes.com/watch?v=Efpm3p6xwkQ . Very hot. “I couldn’t see anything.

“Ok they are finally getting the kids out. please go check the nursery. and start to carry out the trapped inhabitants. sends two tweets: “Firefighters and other security personnel are working to contain the fire at Villagio.” Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani. Two hours in. Firefighters rush in.” . One had taken place during a visit she had made to the mall earlier that week. Oh my god. there is a sigh of relief. They have already evacuated all persons in the mall. rescue workers decide to cut through the roof of the mall to get to Gympanzee. who initially thought the smoke was due to a small fire.Meanwhile. was desperately trying to get people to help find her daughter. with limited equipment and struggling to access the nursery’s location.” says O.” tweets @SyrianBint at 12:56pm. explains at a press conference that evening. #villagio. Grace O. “That entry was from the top of the complex. meanwhile. “I even told one firefighter.” “#VillagioFire Firefighters have reached the main source of fire at Villagio and surrounded the area with all means to extinguish fire. The Ministry of Interior. “They just looked at me like a crazy person who doesn’t know what’s going on. Time was really critical and the teams took some time because the maps were not immediately available. ‘I can give you money. mother of two-year-old Zeinah Aouani. Minister of State for Interior Affairs. And for a moment.” she later explains to an American newspaper.

dangling as they rushed him to the paramedics. It would be another five hours before the government officially explains what happened. the first fireman to come down from that flight of stairs was carrying my brother’s body. was found by a colleague lying lifeless on the floor of the nursery “holding two children in his arms. rumors and blurry images begin circulating on Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger.-SECTION 3 TRAGIC TRUTH Despite the MOI’s assurances. Indeed. it became apparent to everyone that the children were still stuck inside the burning building. and hope against hope that they will be OK.” Hossam Chahboune. and my mother lost it even more. Some of the parents standing by see their children coming out of the roof of the mall. a Moroccan firefighter. But some – like the mother of 15-month-old Umar Emeran. claiming dozens of people have died in the blaze. we got word that they were bringing the children out. She was joined by her other son. his little arms hanging out on his sides. He recalls assuming that the nursery children would be huddled outside.” . “We tried to save him. who raced to Villaggio when his best friend called to tell him smoke was coming from the area.” Abdel Khaleq alHuwari tells journalists. but he died. Paramedics work furiously on children and firefighters alike. After what seemed like forever.were already facing the cold reality wordlessly. 19-year-old Ibraheem Emeran. who watched from the sidelines as EMTs covered her son with a blue sheet .” “The other (Iranian) firefighter was barely alive when we found him. waiting for their parents to collect them: “Eventually.

Video located at: http://www.” he says. Anyone looking for answers about their loved ones was pointed to Hamad Hospital. Amran Mohsen.youtube. But it ebbs as each family is eventually directed to the morgue and asked to produce pictures of their loved ones. No one trapped there survives the day. They are then instructed to identify the bodies of their children and spouses by looking at pictures of them on an iPad. hope is still alive for many. where they were left to beg for updates. explains how the children died.com/watch?v=n1kj6scHfqY Although the fire never reached the nursery. Most of the families do not find out right away. Another firefighter. three at the hospital and the rest right at the spot. ”Five in the ambulance. . the thick noxious smoke was enough. At this point.

‘Is this your kid? Is this your kid?’” “My kid was the last one. I identified the three teachers first.and the death of hope . but no one confirmed to me that they had found my wife.“All the kids from the nursery were dead.” she says.finally comes when the relatives are taken to the deceased themselves. Some of the parents already knew that their children were dead.” Evana’s mother recalls through tears.” Hana’s mother Al Kabbani says. The last one was my wife. the jewelry she was wearing… All information was taken. Even before the whole truth is shared with the public. I didn’t lose hope. It wasn’t until relatives whisked her to the hospital and a nurse wordlessly escorted her to the morgue did she learn about her son’s fate. Just after 7pm. Then. They pulled out the adults one by one. they took me to the mortuary to see if they could find my wife. I just cried.” Aban says he didn’t find out his wife had passed away until 6pm that day: “I gave them a picture of my wife and identifications. “It looked like she was sleeping. Confirmation . the Ministry of Interior finally starts to explain things to the media at a press conference. They should’ve told us from the start that everyone at the nursery was dead. “They asked me.four female Gympanzee employees and two male firefighters . but I was still praying at that time. seven girls and six adults . The 32-year-old French national was in Doha visiting her parents and recovering from giving birth via a caesarean delivery some two weeks before the tragedy.have died of smoke inhalation.” The mother of 3-year-old Youssef Chata did not hear that a fire had taken place at Villaggio until after 6pm. it’s understood that today is a national tragedy. . but no other marks.” recalls Zeinah’s mom. Almost all of the bodies have black soot on them. “They made us feel hopeful for nothing. It’s confirmed: six boys. “They gave us the wrong impression that there were children alive.

the country prepares to mourn. but when we got there.” Seventeen more people were treated for smoke inhalation at Hamad Hospital: 15 Civil Defense officers and two mall security guards. The government chooses not to make public the names of those killed. Later that night. Qatar’s attorney general announces the arrest of some five people associated with the tragedy.Al Thani. the co-owner of Gympanzee. including Villaggio mall’s owner. says: “We tried our best. . the children were trapped inside. the mall manager. but their relatives and friends do. the assistant manager and the assistant director of security. the minister of state. We are very sorry for what happened. All were released within days of the fire. Meanwhile. We tried as much as we could to save these people.

2 years old. New Zealand Zeinah Aouani. 3 years old. Spain Lillie. Egypt/Sudan Mahmoud Haidar. 2 years old. Jackson and Willsher Weekes (triplets).-SECTION 4 THE VICTIMS The Names of the Villaggio Fire Victims Ye Mengling. and Alfonso. 3. Camilo. 7. 2 years old. South Africa Isabel Vela. Spain Almudena. China Hana Sharabati.5 years old. United States Youssef Chata. Travesedo (siblings). 2 years old. France/Egypt Evana Antonios. 15 months old. 7 years old. Iran .5 years old. 3. 5. Canada/Saudi Arabia Umar Emeran.

Hossam Chahboune. Philippines Margie Yecyec. 29 years old. 29 years old. Philippines Julie Ann Soco. Philippines . 22 years old. South Africa Maribel Orosco. Morocco Shameega Charles.

everyone was somehow connected to the tragedy. and in a place as small as Doha. 2012. . Qatar residents awoke with heavy hearts.CHAPTER 2 AFTERMATH On Tuesday. May 29. Nineteen vibrant lives had left the world.

Photo Credit: Omar Chatriwala .

father of 15-month-old Umar. Also on this day. 5. 7. “We didn’t even know him very well. a packed crowd attended a mass that was held at the Catholic church for the four Spanish victims: Isabel Vela. 2.” Umar’s mother. Well-attended funeral prayers were also held there for several of the other Muslim victims on Tuesday. Zareena Solomon. . the two firefighters.” the mother of the siblings later said during their funeral in Madrid. and siblings Almudena. do it with joy. who would go to Abu Hamour Cemetery to bury his son on this day. Mogammad Moeneeb Emeran. He even washed Umar’s body with his own hands. serving them as a host. Their bodies were later flown home to be buried. because they have reached the sky. and Alfonso. and 3-and-a-half-year-old Hana Sharabati.-SECTION 1 THE DAY AFTER Friends.1 – Virgil for the Victims Hundreds of people from across Qatar gathered at Aspire Park to say goodbye. following the Islamic tradition of preparing a person for burial. “If anyone cries. 7. including Mahmoud Haidar and Hossam Chahboune. said his Qatari colleague from Qatar Petroleum jumped in and took care of all the funeral logistics. recalls his next-door neighbor opening up his home to receive well wishers. Emeran. said. Gallery 2. Travesedo. Camilo. acquaintances and strangers rushed forth to comfort the grieving.

Photo by Omar Chatriwala Photo by Omar Chatriwala .

Photo by Omar Chatriwala Photo by Omar Chatriwala .

Photo by Gazanfarulla Khan Photo by Gazanfarulla Khan .

Photo by Brian Candy .

hundreds of residents of all nationalities and all walks of life mourned together. the largest one at Aspire Park. candles and notes at the base of a pole that read: . There. placing flowers.Photo by Brian Candy Photo by Brian Candy At least three vigils were held on Tuesday.

clutching their children’s favorite stuffed animals. including Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al-Thani and Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari. WE LOVE YOU. Culture and Heritage and father to Gympanzee co-owner Iman Al Kuwari.youtube.RIP Fallen Heroes. Also in attendance to offer condolences were high-level Qatari officials.com/watch?v=EjR7y8HFvPA Red-eyed Jane and Martin Weekes of New Zealand. . Jackson and Willsher. RIP Dead Angels. attended the vigil. Video is at: http://www. Qatar’s Minister of Arts. who lost their two-year-old triplets Lillie. RIP Respected Teachers.

so would the fires. The skittishness would continue for months to come. but unfortunately.Qataris and expats alike. cleanup began in earnest at Villaggio Mall. according to Ministry of Interior figures. as residents jumped at reports of minor fires around town. fear also hung in the air that day. including at the Qatar Aeronautical College. and at the Fatima bent Waleed bin Al Muqeera Primary School for girls.” Meanwhile. He said: “It proves we like each other. which are an everyday occurrence in Qatar.The minister said that it was a day of sorrow for everyone . in a shopping complex in Mansoura. much to the dismay of some residents. we love each other. who wondered how a proper investigation would be conducted. . Three other fire-related deaths also took place in 2012. In addition to grief. adding that the fact that a diverse segment of the community attended the vigil should be noted. where some students fainted from the commotion. The mall would remain closed for the next three-and-a-half months.

for ice-skating to Villaggio. the Crown Prince was very compassionate and supportive. began visiting the grieving families. “His Highness.” . said in an editorial: “It is negligence that resembles a premeditated murder. This is a real catastrophe. editor-in-chief of Al-Raya. father of Evana.-SECTION 2 LATER ON After a day of mourning. in schools. for shopping. they will be held accountable. these could have been your kids. “He promised us that no matter who was responsible for this tragedy. on comforting one another and on trying to make sense of it all. which was unusually vocal during this time period (but would later fall silent on the issue). Qatar’s Heir Apparent. also criticized television and radio stations for not covering the tragedy in real-time.” Ajit Kumar Jha. then-editor at the Qatar Tribune. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. wrote: “Imagine. Saleh al-Kawari. our kids. whom we take with us to school. the calls for accountability began. in public buildings like cinema halls?” Print media. in malls. offering condolences and promising justice. He told us that no one was above the law and that justice would be served. Qatar TV’s managing director hit back by saying the fire should not have been treated as a spectacle: “What happened is not a football match to be aired on TV. during which residents focused on saying goodbye. for a movie.” Meanwhile. The tragedy must make us raise certain questions: how safe are our kids in Doha? How secure are fire hydrants and the sprinklers all over the city.” said Abd Elmasseih Antonios Mina Eskandar.

Nursery owners were also told they would receive further instructions about new stricter health. hygiene.” By September. Civil Defense closed City Center. the Ministry of Social Affairs took the tragedy as a wake-up call. a committee organized to investigate the cause of the Villaggio fire determined that the ordeal was a perfect storm of negligence and lack of preparedness on all sides. 2012. safety and academic requirements. It stated: “Upper floors in nurseries are to be converted for administration purposes only. Qatar’s largest mall. and safety conditions. but highlights of it were published by the state’s Qatar News Agency. Among them: the committee found a “lack of adherence to required laws. Also in June. but they have yet to introduced. With summer in full force and Villaggio closed last year. for safety violations. within three months from June 1. In the event that the requirements are not met as announced. and measure by all concerned parties to different degree(s). most nurseries had complied.” The technical report also debunked rumors that the fire was caused by Syrians loyal to embattled President Bashar Al Assad. Gympanzee also went on the offensive after it emerged that it was registered as a mall play area rather than a nursery. The full report has not been released one year on. residents turned to Qatar’s other malls for entertainment. two weeks after the fire. systems. saying it was clearly not a premeditated act. This includes adherence to design. sending memos to all nursery owners that it would be auditing their creches to ensure they complied with government requirements. in mid-June. though many complained about a shortage of space and said they found the directive to be arbitrary and unnecessary. license. That issue would later be argued over by defense lawyers and the prosecuting attorney for hours in court. However. Meanwhile. the necessary legal measures will be taken with regard to the non-compliant nurseries. which contributed to (the) Villagio catastrophe. It also warned the .In the days following the fire.

did not receive approval from Civil Defense to reopen by Eid. the parents called the potential opening “outrageous. and then the weekend. When it reopened. . In response to the news.” The letter read: “The owners and operators of Villaggio should not be allowed to go back to ‘business as usual’ without having addressed the needs and concerns of the families they devastated. In August. But it took the mall nearly a month to get approvals. media reports suggested that Villaggio mall would reopen in time for Eid. apartment buildings and restaurants to shore up their fire prevention and safety measures . ventilation and fire devices. This is the equivalent of sweeping a crime under the rug and we won’t stand for it.” The mall. Despite rumors. the parents of the 13 children killed in the fire issued a joint statement calling for a boycott of the facility. Citing an absence of information about safety reforms made to the mall. Institutions found to be in violation of code in terms of their alarm. City Center told shoppers it would be closed for the day. emergency exits and training of personnel could be closed for up to 30 days.or face immediate closure. Landmark Mall remained open. officials said. many of the kiosks crowding mall hallways had been removed. hurtful and indefensible. and aisleways within stores like Carrefour and Home Centre were reportedly widened. hotels. Six new emergency exits were added to the mall. no offer of financial compensation from its owners and no government updates on the fire investigation.nation’s private and public companies. ultimately. though its cinema was temporarily closed for safety violations.

the trial to determine criminal responsibility for the fire deaths commenced. the court proceedings would be postponed three more times because of the absence of Gympanzee co-owner Iman Al Kuwari. 6. who are not only someone’s child but also leave behind children of their own.4 percent from 2010. which they said called into question the effectiveness of the country’s legal system. on Sept. Many Qatar residents also expressed concern at the delays. who had moved to Belgium with her family after the fire. Jane Weekes expressed her pain to Doha News: “One of the hardest things about losing a child or children is how quickly the world seems to return to normal whilst ours remains shattered. The months of postponement caused much consternation for those who had lost loved ones. A report issued around this time found that Qatar’s courts are severely backlogged. the hearing was postponed after some of the defendants failed to turn up in court. Qatar received the news with an ambivalence that continues to this day. as her husband Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani began his post as Qatar’s ambassador there. an increase of 5. As people began heading back to the mall. on Sept. But the issue appears to be much bigger than this one case. but offered no information about what changes were made to the facility to make it a safer place.980 cases filed in Qatar’s courts were not resolved.-SECTION 3 THE TRIAL Weeks later. . However. 20. This will equally be the case for the families of the 4 teachers and 2 firefighters who perished. and were anxious for resolution. one-fifth of the 86. Villaggio mall did reopen to the public.” In the months to follow. In 2011. Shortly thereafter.

flammable paint in its .” Among the grievances: Despite reassurances. the Emir made one of his first public acknowledgments of the fire. including in the Villaggio fire case. such as what happened earlier this year in the Villaggio Mall. but necessary precautions and preventive measures could be taken to avoid them or at least mitigate the damage caused by unavoidable occurrences. in November of last year. the parents of the two-year-old triplets who died in the fire. Meanwhile. meaning their bodies had deteriorated by the time they arrived home in New Zealand. when the country’s population consisted of half a million people. The complaint included a number of alleged failings that Jane Weekes said prompted the couple to feel “let down in what was the worst time of our lives. it emerged that Hamad Medical Corp. but also to the court procedures that allow for lawyers to employ stalling tactics. the triplets were not embalmed properly. only providing empty reassurances. testimony heard during the fire case showed that the government had been fining Villaggio mall repeatedly since 2008 for using a highly toxic. was being investigated by a worldwide healthcare accrediting body following a complaint filed by Jane and Martin Weekes.The report attributed the delays to an archaic system that has not been updated since 1990. Meanwhile.” As the trial inched along. since human errors and accidents cannot be prevented. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said: “Lessons must be learned from the mistakes. and Non-nursing staff assigned to stay with the families were unable to offer any practical help. Lillie was still being treated when she reached the hospital and her parents were not told she had died until they were asked to identify her in the morgue. At the opening of the 41st session of the Advisory Council.

as recently as the week of the fire. because if it was a properly licensed nursery. the paint. once ignited. a judge on the case effectively placed a gag order on the trial. She also stated that the nursery had no windows or ventilation. Previously. A former employee who testified confirmed that Gympanzee had a second exit. To the panel of judges. Also at issue was whether the center was equipped for a fire emergency. Officials also testified that firefighters were not properly trained to handle the fire. Sprinklers would have stopped the smoke. firefighters said they did not initially know that the mall had a nursery or that children were trapped inside. But parents of children killed in the fire testified that the business operated as a daycare. Villaggio officials did not respond to requests from the fire alarm and sprinkler system companies to perform much-needed maintenance on the mall equipment. monthly contracts and photos of signage and literature of Gympanzee referring to itself as a nursery. they presented receipts. testified that it was not a nursery.mall decorations. According to one Civil Defense officer. Documentation shows that Gympanzee was licensed by the Ministry of Business and Trade for six business activities. Additionally. the focus turned to Gympanzee and whether it violated the terms of its commercial license. saying no teaching took place there. but they didn’t appear to be functioning. parents told Doha News. including as a playroom for children. but that it would have led inhabitants right into the mall where the fire was. In February. and then denying that . caused the fire and smoke to spread quickly. At later hearings. The distinction is important. asking Doha News to request a letter formally seeking permission to cover it. but were not there the day of the fire. Other parents of children who have attended the center. Civil Defense officials would have been aware that there were children inside of Villaggio and worked to get them out quickly.

There. 2013. Finally. They also took issue with the conditions under which the defendants were arrested and detained.permission. we began reporting what those who attended the hearings had heard and seen. the testimony taken from the Villaggio employees was delivered under harsh conditions and thus should be dismissed. The lawyers also asked why the owner of Nike.” The men had been handcuffed and not told of their right to remain silent. where the fire began and where the sprinkler system was reportedly shut off. given the size and popularity of Villaggio. the lawyer for the Business and Trade Ministry official said it is not uncommon procedure. for many permit renewals to be signed based on accumulated knowledge gathered from regular and frequent visits. the number of victims could easily have been multiplied. . especially the ambassador and Villaggio chairman. the prosecutor made an impassioned plea that all seven defendants be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. and not the paint on Villaggio’s walls . that there is no direct causality that links any deeds acted out by their clients as the direct and sole cause of the death of any of the victims. as was pointed out during prior witness testimony.though the mall had been repeatedly fined since 2008 over the paint. One lawyer proposed that the toxicity in the smoke came from the burnt Nike products. who were held in conditions that “did not match their status. The court convened for the 14th time on April 4. not obtaining the proper permits in itself did not result in death. The defendants’ lawyers argued. were not called into court. For example. After this. among other things. and that power and money should not absolve culpability in this case. He pointed out that. Additionally. finally hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defendants’ lawyers.

He also stated that his agreement with Iman al-Kuwari was that she would lease out a space in Villaggio to turn into a nursery and that he himself . Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Rabban. Iman Al-Kuwari. and A $15. Villaggio’s chairman. was the manager of Gympanzee and she affirmed that she had obtained all the necessary permits.000) in blood-money for each deceased individual who died of involuntary manslaughter. asserting that the only way to ensure that such crimes of negligence are not committed again is for the material compensation to be painfully exorbitant.The lawyer retained by the victims’ families also spoke. including the approval of Civil Defense. to run her business. their respective insurance companies and the Ministry of Business and Trade to collectively pay: The standard $55. he asked the court to order all seven defendants.7 million (QR50 million) payout for material and emotional damages experienced by each inheritor of the victim. daughter of Qatar’s culture minister.1 million (QR55 million) payout per inheritor as compensation for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased. Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium. told the prosecution that he used to conduct weekly visits to the mall to ensure that safety regulations were met and to verify that all the shops engaged in the same activities they were leased out and licensed to engage in.000 (QR200. which the technical report said operated as an unlicensed nursery. The Villaggio Fire Trial Defendants Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani. Thus. A verdict is expected on June 20. is the owner of Gympanzee and confirmed that he supervised the obtaining of all the necessary permits for his business. But whether she was violating the terms of her commercial license was up for debate. A $13.

the manager of Villaggio. and Mansour Nasir Fazzaa al-Shahwani. She further admitted that she did not issue direct orders to the staff to go to Gympanzee to evacuate it as soon as she learned of the fire. said that had anyone immediately gone to the nursery to evacuate it as soon as the fire broke out.authorized that contract. said he was the one responsible for Gympanzee’s commercial permit as a play area and that he had not conducted a special inspection in order to renew the license. said that the safety regulations there were not adequate and that there weren’t any special precautions made for Gympanzee in respect to it being a business that catered to children. but in that time only received emergency training for fire-combatting and evacuation during two one-hour sessions. the children could have been saved. the mall’s assistant manager. making sure later that indeed the space was used as a nursery. verifying that Gympanzee was engaging in the same activity that it had been licensed for. . Rima Itani. from the Ministry of Business and Trade. said he had been an employee of Villaggio for six years. the mall’s head of security. He said that the sprinklers were not working and admitted that he did not issue any direct orders to his staff to evacuate the mall in general and Gympanzee in particular. Tzoulios Tzouliou. Ahmad Muhammad Abdul Rahman. where it is recorded that he had conducted that special inspection. This contradicts what he had written in the permit-renewal document.

we do not appear to have moved that far beyond a mall tragedy that shattered our naive belief in public safety.CHAPTER 3 GRIEVING FAMILIES One year on. For the suffering relatives of the deceased. closure remains a long way off. .

Photo Credit: American School of Doha .

it is that. saw him being carried out of the mall and watched paramedics unsuccessfully try to revive him before covering his body in defeat. Umar’s father said he had one insane moment of hope. they remember experiencing the crushing grief that knowledge brings. but when doctors accidentally showed them the corpse of the wrong child.” Several things make it hard to move on. there is the horror of the day itself. Zareena Solomon. Relatives recount hearing about the fire from phone calls and Facebook messages and tweeted photos of smoke. And then. Umar’s mother. that perhaps his own son still belonged to this world. First. and then pacing the hallways of Hamad Hospital. the hardest hit are the relatives of the 13 children. Unlike many of the parents who learned of their children’s deaths at Hamad. . four Gympanzee employees and two firefighters who were killed in the fire.-SECTION 1 OPEN WOUNDS It still hurts. anticipating answers. died on his fifth day at Gympanzee.” the mother of 3-year-old Youssef Chata said about surviving the loss of her son. like the other parents. If there is one thing that all of Qatar can agree on about the Villaggio fire. Umar Emeran. They remember feeling a growing sense of dread as they waited outside of Villaggio for familiar faces to emerge. “You don't recognize yourself. “You feel you're 70 or 80 (years old) because of all that you've seen. Of course. There was no urgency for the couple on the way to HMC. a 15-month-old South African and the fire’s youngest victim.

" Hana Sharabati. "I felt like I didn't have a heart at all. Photos show Mogammad Moeneeb Emeran carrying his son’s shrouded body at the funeral procession. Aban said he told officers that his wife and several children were trapped inside. "I used to feel my heart burning. When Aban arrived at Villaggio. flanked by weeping Civil Defense officers. I’m always asking for forgiveness for that." her mother. “But I didn’t." Louie Aban thought that if he drove fast enough." the 45-year old teacher said. a 3-and-a-half-year-old Canadian/Saudi girl. But the air was too hot and the smoke too thick to make it inside the nursery. however. police barred him from going into the mall.” he said. "In the morning he was alive . She knew. said. 29-year-old Maribel Orosco. officers began taking the victims out through the roof. he could get to Villaggio in time to save his wife. “but they kept saying ‘no problem. and Orosco’s brother both also tried. every problem I could fix. Emeran. But the 32-year-old Filipino didn’t make it in time.and then all of a sudden.’” Nearly two hours later. did not experience the stress of wondering what had happened to her son because she had not heard about . “The worse thing is my wife thought I could save her. Gympanzee’s co-owner. 37. was also buried the day after she died. unable to locate Gympanzee. This one I couldn’t.They buried Umar the next day. he was lifeless. said. firefighters suited up Aban so that he could show them the way. Raghda Al Kabbani. Instead. "That was so painful. who asked to be identified by her initials NG. and Aban later found his wife in the hospital mortuary. but were not allowed to go inside.” Youssef’s mother. who worked as an accountant at Gympanzee. It had been removed from my body. Iman Al Kuwari.

At 6pm. because there was a fire at Villaggio. worried.my tears poured out of my eyes heavily and washed my face.Nobody said anything before I saw him. She said she only started to worry about him after 4pm.. I all of a sudden found myself in the morgue. At the hospital. “I will never forget my mother's face had the most horrible expression.” . “I thought maybe they went shopping. her father and brothers came home and told her to come along..” Youssef’s mom would return to the morgue a number of times that night. one nurse snapped at her: “You really want to see him?” “Everybody was under the greatest shock and grief.no flame came near him. packed up her two-week-old daughter and rushed out the door.. Then. “He was sleeping like a little angel . “Where’s Youssef. (and) I just kept saying Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (Surely we belong to God and to Him we return).the fire all day. Despite repeated questions. She had just been released from the hospital on May 14. “He was just perfect. she saw her mother sitting with the French Counsel and other members of the French Embassy..” she said.” she said. who had come for a visit to Doha nearly a month earlier and was staying at her parents’ home while recovering from the delivery of her second child. I did not yell or scream . They looked terrible and tired. “It was the worst few minutes of my life. to see her son and try to accept her new reality.. nobody would tell her what happened. The shock was overwhelming. when her father did not bring him home from Gympanzee as usual..” NG asked. just sleeping.” came the reply.” Youssef's mother said. and she was not answering me.” said NG. continuing: "I still hear the cries of adults in my ears and realized that a lot of parents were also in the hospital.” NG recalled. “Just come with us. NG quickly threw an abaya over her pajamas. While following the nurse.

1 – Photos from Family and Friends Evana Antonios .Gallery 3.

Hana Sharabati Isabel Vela .

Ye Mengling .

Umar Emeran .

Jackson and Willsher Weekes .Lillie.

Maribel Orosco with her husband Louie and son Liam Shameega Charles .

Mahmoud Haidar Hossam Chahboune .

Julie Ann Soco with Evana Antonios .

Youssef Chata .

18-month-old Evana Antonios. for spiritual guidance. was gone. . Then they kissed her goodbye and prayed for her. who came to the hospital that night. The couple recalled that Evana had remnants of soot on her face from the dense smoke. Her father turned her body over to make sure there were no injuries. They also turned to the priest of the Coptic Church in Qatar.Zeinah Aouani The morgue is also where Abd Elmasseih Antonios Mina Eskandar and Manal Murgus finally came to know that their only child. The hospital had already taken her out of her clothes and covered her with a sheet.

I prayed that he had hidden somewhere and might be OK. 7. Their friends.Jane and Martin Weekes were yet another couple who spent long. our little boy. and was being treated in emergency. was missing. Isabel. In a letter recounting their experience the day of the fire. 5 and 7.. had not survived. All my babies were dead. Camilo and Almudena. however. It was Willsher. waiting for answers about their two-year-old triplets. had to say goodbye to their only child. After another hour or more my husband was again taken to identify one last little child. Jane Weekes writes about finding out that two of her children. . Willsher. Lillie and Jackson. Yolanda Mascaraque and Santiago Vela. agonizing hours at the hospital.. aged 2.” Camilo and Elena Travesedo also lost three children: Alfonso. She continues: “. We had described him as a little red-haired boy with big beautiful blue eyes… This child had hair darkened by soot and the hospital staff still said it was a girl.

” she said. who had turned 29 three days before her death. When I saw her son’s pictures on the nightstand. I . she was taken to her daughter’s grave. wanting to see her face just to make sure that no mistake has been made with her identity. Overcome by emotion. She continues: “The following day I returned to her grave and scraped all the courage together to stand beside her. It was 10am and extremely hot. a South African teacher whose body was retrieved from the office of Gympanzee. she went back to her hotel room and cried. had spent the weekend on the phone and on Skype with her family. Maryam Charles flew to Qatar after losing a hero.I wanted to see my child and I remember sitting down and starting to scrape at the stones. were found hidden inside her shirt. her daughter Shameega Charles. burying that person and returning home without them rank high on the list. but could not get herself to leave the car and face Shameega.-SECTION 2 BEREFT AT HOME If there is anything more painful than coming face-to-face with a departed loved one. Next came the difficult task of packing up her daughter’s apartment. I knew I was in the right place. She was trying to protect them from the smoke. including her five-year-old son.it felt like I was entering the apartment of a complete stranger. Charles said: “Everything she owned was unfamiliar to me . Charles. All I remember then was her dad and nephew taking me back to the vehicle. Instead. I did not care about the heat . Umar and Evana. Maryam Charles said when arrived to Doha on the Friday after the fire. the two youngest daycare attendees. who lived in South Africa with his grandmother.

.” Solomon. she said. Her children have to warn her to look away before opening the cabinet. "I believe in Allah. Solomon said she could only began moving forward after realizing that there was nothing anyone could have done to save her son.could not touch anything and was taken outside by (one of Shameega’s friends). I believe it was his time to go. is progress after the strife the tragedy initially caused. That kind of grief has taken its toll on the Emeran family. But at some point.. After the fire. "But then there's also the negligence. "The first four months were hell. That." Emeran said. She accidentally glimpsed one on a cell phone recently and froze for 15 minutes. the what-if game. apparently. he and his wife spent a great deal of time mired in the blame game." she said. Emeran said he had to pull it together and lead his family of six through the storm." . who said they are working to take their loss one day at a time. 40. her husband said. also had a difficult time with her late son’s belongings. She also cannot handle seeing pictures of Umar. and every other method of mental torture grieving parents put themselves through. She still cannot bear to look at a pair of Umar’s Crocs that remain in the downstairs shoe cabinet.

regardless of the politics. as they are citizens of this country.” Some families have already left Qatar. our lives here are not permanent. Qatar’s courts have yet to determine who.” Twelve months and 14 court hearings later. A judge is expected to issue a decision next month. or craving the strong support networks they have waiting for them at home.” Antonios said. What if we leave our jobs and have to go home? We might leave Qatar without knowing the destiny of this trial. and his promise to hold those responsible accountable for what happened. will be held criminally responsible for the 19 deaths caused by the fire. including from the Heir Apparent himself. “Due to the sacrifice of our children. Antonios recalled his visit with Qatar’s Deputy Emir. Their death helped fix fire protection measures in Qatar.a lack of justice. As for us. if anyone. it will only be a preliminary verdict. unable to deal with the memories of their loved ones around every corner in Doha. this is not an issue. accountability has yet to be assigned. but it’s hard to hope that justice will be served. “If it weren’t for the death of our loved ones. For Qataris. There is still room for an appeal and other steps in the legal process. Four-year-old Ye Mengling’s parents moved to China almost immediately after the tragedy. the issue of fire protection and safety measures in Qatar would not have been brought to the forefront of the government’s attention.-SECTION 3 WAITING FOR JUSTICE That’s another thing that makes it so hard for the families left behind to find closure . it has become a matter of importance. and have had minimal contact with those in Qatar since. This can take years. . Antonios said: “We understand that even when the verdict is announced. Despite all the promises made to them after the fire.

She said: I explain to him that his mommy is with Allah. who went to the Philippines. where his wife is buried. Murgus echoes a similar sentiment: “For us. while he worked full-time in the Industrial Area. and then later. then all of our memories of the places we took her to. According to Maryam Charles. and often asks when she is coming home. If we leave Qatar. which gifts she will buy for his birthday. says that their son Liam. her grandson is in his tenth month of therapy. He appears to block out reality according to the psychologist. The people who left could not deal with these painful memories. When he says his prayers at night. but has made little progress.Others can’t bear to leave. but really. to mark the anniversary of her death. doesn’t remember his mother. She lived her short life here. “He’s always mentioning Mummy. why did God take his mother. Up until recently. If I was granted one wish it would be to heal his broken heart. the things that she liked will die. This is where we feel connected to her.” Then there are the people who will be waiting forever. who has lived here for 11 years. said he will return to Doha without his son.” he said.” said Solomon. he doesn’t know what his Mummy looks like. . He becomes very sad when he sees other children with their mums. but the reality has not sunk in yet. He constantly speaks of Shameega as if she is still alive. “Doha is home. the sadness in his voice is unbearable when it becomes a mere crackling whisper. But he’s just made a life-changing decision. Aban had hired a nanny to look after Liam. Aban.” Aban. husband of Gympanzee employee Maribel Osco. now 21 months. like the son of Shameega Charles. he says a special prayer for her. Evana was born here.

“I can’t work properly. because I know they will appeal. I will go back to the Philippines for good. sister of Umar.” There are more traumatized children. So I’ve decided to leave him in the Philippines. though – only until the trial is finished. and there’s the Supreme Court after that.“I can’t do it anymore. but it wasn’t the same. I know that this will take time. said: “Before.” he said. so it will take time. and look after my son there.” . he's the best thing that's ever happened to us. But when it’s finished. How could it be the same? Not after its heart and soul was now under the ground. I was too afraid to even mention his name and talk about him because when I heard my thoughts in words. Seventeen-year-old Nuhaa Emeran.” Her 19-year-old brother Ibraheem added: “We got back to our house. it just rewound back to that day and played like a movie. to be looked after by his grandmother. including the siblings of the deceased. worrying about my son all the time. my mother-in-law. even after the verdict. Not forever. My head was filled with the memories we made and it was so sad because to us.

while Skyping with Shameega a few days before the fire. will always be embedded in my mind. which he learned how to do just so that his daughter would have a fresh. her daughter’s favorite food. Murgus said: “She started saying her name at the nursery. “She always had an amazing sense of humor.’ But her father and I never heard it at home. She described her daughter as a lively girl who could carry on a conversation with anyone and anything ." Al Kabbani still can’t make meatballs. "I can't think she's there. Maryam Charles always thinks about her daughter’s laugh. but her laughter that particular night was nothing I have ever witnessed before. Evana would call out to the other children when she sat down to eat at Gympanzee.” Evana’s father will miss going fishing on the Corniche." . calling herself ‘anana. and the last time she heard it. “The manner in which she laughed and threw herself back onto her bed. My daughter died before I could even hear her say her own name.” she said. As a social child who didn’t like to dine alone. And she has no plans to ever visit her daughter's grave. like conversing with their daughter. healthy meal to eat. "She used to talk to all the items in the house.even the contents of the refrigerator.-SECTION 4 TOO QUIET There are a lot of things relatives say they will miss about their departed loved ones. His wife thinks about all the things the couple will miss out on in the future.” Hana’s mom also misses the chatter.

I prayed for that. Solomon gave birth to Maryam. Solomon recalled being worried that she would not have a connection to the child. but she has come with her own blessings and love.” his wife added. She hasn't changed anything about the way I feel about Umar. “All of a sudden. I was surprisingly relieved. you have an infinite amount of time.” “It was so quiet.we’re not just whining about some general inconvenience. the loss of Umar caused an unbearable quiet to settle over their home. filling our days which were for a year dull with an awkward quietness that was always taken up by my beloved Umar. Two months ago.” A new arrival to the Emeran home. The day the (doctor) told me it was a girl. Rubbing salt in the wounds.For the Emerans. Solomon said: I wanted Maryam to be a boy . but there hasn’t even been any communication. however. has helped to heal the cracks in their family. “We lost our children .I remember when I found out I was pregnant. Throughout her pregnancy.” his dad remembered. Now Maryam is with us. “Many people think we’ve been compensated.” Umar’s dad said. Janes Weekes said. The silence “is insulting to the memory of our children. The silence from the government has also been difficult to take. I had kept Umar's cloths for a little boy that I wished would look just like him. . is the fact that his friends think the families of the deceased have been paid off. “He took up all of our time. said Emeran. She has filled me with a love I thought I could never have again. Speaking to New Zealand media.

According to her doctor. “To call them special would do them an injustice. the Spanish family who lost three children in the fire. adding that the couple hopes moving forward in this way will help them to close the “unfathomable gap” left by the death of Lillie. to say that we miss them would be an understatement. Camilo and Elena Travesedo. the relatives of all the loved ones say they will carry their memories in their hearts forever. Evana’s parents are trying again.At least two other couples who lost their children are growing their families again. The prospect is “scary. Whatever happens. but her emotional state could be affecting the outcome. . are also expecting. but Murgus said it’s just not happening. there are no physical barriers preventing her from getting pregnant again. but to say that they’re the ones always on our minds would be nothing less than the truth. Jackson and Willsher. Jane and Martin Weekes are expecting twins this summer.” Jane told news media.” Ibraheem Emraan said.

. Coupled with the grief and shock of the Villaggio fire is a desire for Qatar to learn from the past. and to keep such a disaster from ever happening again.CHAPTER 4 A COUNTRY OF FIRES Fire and building safety have been on the minds of many this past year.

Photo Credit: Omar Chatriwala .

for example by supervising fire drills in shopping malls. In 2010.192 reported fires in Qatar occurred in malls. which has been shuttered for renovations ever since.-SECTION 1 UNCLEAR STANDARDS There is no doubt that Qatar has worked to make the country a safer place this past year. May also logged the most fires. . We do know. Mall safety One such fire took place at City Center Mall. recently told news media. This could be in part because there are not enough qualified people to make the necessary determinations. 78 out of the 1. at 97. with 124 cases reported in May of 2011 and well over 100 in June and July. the Ministry of Interior’s Civil Defense department has stepped up safety checks. a lack of a developed safety culture and a bottom-line mindset. as was the case with Villaggio. but experts say efforts have fallen short. Over the past 12 months. Still. though. the cause of the vast majority of fires in Qatar has gone undetermined for at least the past four years. But what good is it when society does not take it seriously?” Hussain Aman Al-Ali. service areas and shops. according to Qatar Statistics Authority figures. at the McDonald’s in its main food court. Most fires happened during the hot summer months. in part due to inexperience. that the main cause of the small percentage of fires that could be determined were electrical short-circuits. In 2012. assistant director of the Preventative Department of Civil Defense. “Law will always remain law. ordered the closure of businesses deemed unsafe without warning and worked to shore up the implementation of fire safety procedures.

because in the end we are not fire experts. it’s getting much more active…and we’re very glad. the location of fire exits and fire-proofing of the structure. But now. Despite this flurry of activity. Civil Defense must sign off on this strategy before construction can begin. fire strategies for new buildings must be addressed as early as the design stage. there is still a great deal of confusion surrounding what the safety standards in Qatar actually are.” A retail manager at Villaggio Mall also said that before the fire. However. nor are we experts of the law of Qatar. He said: “It’s a general problem. This would include elements such as the alarm and sprinkler systems.” but now they frequent the mall every two or three days. so of course we need the support of the Qatari Civil Defense. Civil Defense officials “weren’t very visible. and whether its increased level of activity in the last year is because of the introduction of new rules or simply a renewed enforcement of the old ones. “we probably hadn’t seen (Civil Defense) for a couple of years – they hadn’t been here for any kind of inspection or drill.” When it comes to the ongoing maintenance of fire systems.Olaf Kindt. said Nathan Goddard. said that prior to the Villaggio fire. a health and safety engineer who has been working in Qatar for 15 years. even if the plans are approved. Sometime it’s because of the cost – and sometimes it’s just the people they employ who are not competent enough to be doing it. not just in Qatar. . and are required to be based on either UK or US building standards. they are not always implemented or maintained. and whether they are being enforced reliably and consistently. it is still not clear exactly what set of standards Civil Defense is following. but when you look into it deeply you find things like fire alarms not working properly and fire exits locked. According to Qatari law. but across the Gulf – some companies will do it and some companies say they’re going to do it. That’s the bottom line. director of that mall.

officials said they immediately revised their fire protocols after what happened at Villaggio. adding that sometimes this is made harder by confusing instructions from Civil Defense. shortly after the Villaggio fire. and as they were not focusing on this so much before. amplifying emergency exit signage. He continued: “The rules and regulations are changing. linking their fire alarm system directly to Civil Defense. and updating software so that when a fire alarm goes off. all the escalators stop automatically. installing flashing lights for people who cannot hear well and setting up a direct link to Civil Defense so that it becomes aware of an alarm the moment it is activated. the mall is in the process of upgrading its alarm system to include announcements telling people to leave through the nearest exit. hiring fire wardens to work each shift.” Other malls also upgraded their procedures this year. it was unclear. In addition. Kindt said he was surprised when City Center mall was ordered to close for three weeks last year. Sometimes we don’t know 100 percent (what we’re supposed to do) and we don’t get a clear answer from Civil Defense. maybe because they are also in between. “I guess the reason was they wanted to make sure everything was under law and order. they are also developing. For example.” Kindt said. We do the best we can from our side to observe the regulations. officials were unable to tell him whether some fire exit doors needed replacing entirely or just repairing.” he said. during City Center’s closure. He explained that changes made during the closure included a thorough check of the mall’s alarm and sprinkler systems. At Hyatt Plaza. making evacuation plans visible throughout the mall. “We are really serious on working to provide a secure environment. but there are items that are a bit difficult. and installing a sprinkler system that . increasing the numbers of security guards from 39 to 55.Civil Defense did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

And Ezdan Mall.includes devices in between the ceiling and the floor above. . They are also working to replace substandard electrical components inside the mall. and is training stores’ sales representatives and janitors in evacuation procedures. said progress was pushed back after the Villaggio fire so that the complex would be better prepared for emergencies. which opened in Gharafa in April after a six-month delay. For example. installed glass panes in the ceiling to improve lighting even if the electricity shuts off. Ezdan has added several emergency exits.

more understanding.” Another international safety expert working at a new mall in Doha has a similar view. They have to know there is a boom in infrastructure and they need to meet this. they have to find the experts. is a shortage of qualified people within the organization: “They have a few experts. saying that the Civil Defense officers he comes into contact with are of very mixed quality. said there have been big changes in the last year and that while the government branch is working hard to raise standards. . but is it enough to control the country? No. “Some are qualified and competent. it remains a very long way from where it needs to be. who asked not be named to preserve job security.” the engineer said.” he said. The health and safety expert. There has to be more co-operation.-SECTION 2 A LONG ROAD A leading Qatari fire engineer at a large government-run company suggests that Civil Defense is an organization in flux. also requesting not to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the mall. he added. They are improving but they need to do more. some are not. “Their capability is created for 10 years back. In general.” One of the main problems. they lack experience. If they have any doubt about the standards. “The capability of Civil Defense is very small compared with the growing infrastructure. Aware that there is room for improvement. the Ministry of Interior has sent a group of some dozen recruits to the UK every year for the last five years to participate in a bespoke training program at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire.

So far. the UK program demonstrates a commitment by Civil Defense to improve the levels of expertise within its ranks. “They are undertaking a very difficult process. in-depth program that covers operational management. But ensuring Qatar residents stay safe will take more than Civil Defense. and 28 are currently in the UK at different stages of their studies. said the Qatari recruits do about 40 separate courses over their two years. around 20 have completed the course. where the level is largely contingent on the personal commitment of the building owner.The recruits spend the first year learning English. experts said. Even if the numbers going through the program are relatively small. an instructor at the Fire Service College and the international program development coordinator. followed by a two-year. the recruits become Civil Defense officers on their return to Qatar. If they pass the course. According to Goddard. . including fighting fires and taking command at fire incidents. There is a lack of awareness and education in safety issues. as well as fire protection and prevention. the health and safety engineer. “The safety culture in our country does not have the necessary preparedness. Paul Hinken. adding that a profound cultural shift is needed so that all stakeholders here understand and prioritize health and safety. Not everybody passes. it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that a contractor hired to check the building’s fire systems is competent to do the job.” he said.” the Qatari engineer said. An appreciation for proper standards is particularly important when it comes to the maintenance and safety of older buildings. For example. the recent earthquake – we didn’t think it would happen here. more than many UK fire officers will do in their entire careers. and we are not prepared for that scenario. so it’s a credit to the ones that do get through the whole process here and graduate as officers.

And experts say Civil Defense simply does not have the manpower and expertise to step in and put things right yet.And if a fault is identified. many more do not. and we (the safety professionals) are getting more support. private contractors are typically hired to test alarm and sprinkler systems and check fire extinguishers. For every businesses. the shock of the Villaggio fire has accelerated a shift in mindset. he said. but overall. is “that you get what you pay for…and they’re not always willing to throw money at the stuff they really need. this is people’s lives. But. the country still has a long way to go. said the safety expert at a new mall here. organization or building owner that prioritizes fire safety. The problem with this.” City Center manager Kindt said he sees this shift in shop tenants’ new willingness to cooperate with fire drills during trading hours – a move that often puts a dent in revenue. In the course of researching this issue.” For now. it is again up to the owner to ensure it gets fixed properly. But just because the paperwork is in order and the boxes are ticked. He said: “The people at the top suddenly realized this is a priority. the engineer said. it seems that there are many individuals and organizations that are committed to high standards. And Goddard also suggested that the Villaggio fire has prompted people to step up their game on matters of fire safety. Doha News approached . “It is a young country…it’s taken the UK 60 years to get where we are and we still have problems.” In Qatar. according to the Qatari engineer. The mentality is changing. They then sign the paperwork that Civil Defense can demand to see in routine or unannounced checks. doesn’t necessarily mean you can trust that the systems are safe. implementation remains very inconsistent. here in Qatar. Adding to these concerns is a general lack of transparency and openness about how things are done. and in many ways that is not surprising. However.

In the vast majority of cases. If organizations are not confident enough in their own safety procedures to make them public. this request was turned down. it naturally raises the question of whether they really are doing enough. or whether they feel they have something to hide.several shopping malls and residential tower blocks to find out about their safety practices. .

Here. calling it a national tragedy that affected everyone. three Qataris offer their opinions. .CHAPTER 5 QATARI VOICES Although no Qatar citizens died in the Villaggio fire. many locals have spoken out about what happened.

Photo Credit: Josh Hughes .

why are our media still in the freezer? Why are they not trying to change the way they do things? Why do they just stand still as if it was the 1970s or ‘80s? This fire really made people aware of how bad our media is. Al Rayyan. It was only one new channel. Twitter was the only way to get information. . really shocking. I was flicking from one TV channel to another. we really couldn’t understand the magnitude of it. It was a really bad thing that happened. Is it because they just want to forget about it? Is it because the court process takes too much time? It seems to me like everybody is waiting for somebody to tell them what to do. responsive news. nobody was there! It was shocking. only for two or three days afterwards and then that was it. and that it would be in the media until things were solved. author and publishing consultant at Qatar Foundation When it came on the news that there was a fire at Villaggio. they thought the media would take it up. then I saw it was really a big problem. The newspapers had nothing. I have no idea why. But I don’t think any of the mainstream news here in Doha covered it at all. and when I saw pictures of women crying for their kids. But to be frank. The question is. veteran journalist. which started to air something. people kept on talking about it for days.-SECTION 1 MEDIA FROZEN By Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud. People were standing outside tweeting about it. Who is there? What is happening? Is it a big one or a small one? And we found out at that point that we don’t have very quick.

but what are the lessons learnt? I haven’t seen any regulation or reforms to stop it from happening again. it’s not how it was solved that day. I’m just hoping that things will change. in a school. with their education and their understanding of other nations. But something like this could happen in an apartment building. so why not our media? I understand that people would like to go on with their lives. What was the old system that Civil Defense used to follow before. and what has been changed now? Nobody knows. . but even that is not published. I haven’t seen anything published. We need to know what kind of regulation or changes they have been asked to do. but it is good to know exactly who is responsible and what went wrong. Maybe they have been focusing on the malls. They might come up with solutions and they might be more open and more demanding. a hospital. It was nicely covered. I’m relying on the young generation now to do much better than the present generation. it’s not missile technology! It’s something very easy – students have done it. People need to open up about this and we need to understand. Let’s hope so really. I was wondering why something like this was not done by our media? What’s wrong? It’s not magic. except maybe more regulation of the fire systems.I saw a report made by the Northwestern University in Qatar students about the fire. Personally I believe that if there is a disaster or something bad happens.

-SECTION 2

A WAKE-UP CALL
By Dr. Hend Al Muftah, associate professor of Human Resources Management at Qatar University and managing director of the Childhood Cultural Centre
I felt panic and shock as this was the first time such scary event had happened in Qatar. At the outset it was not easy for me to absorb the seriousness of the event, as I was watching the dark, thick smoke above the mall from my office window. However, a few hours later, I realized how serious it was – the disaster of losing 19 innocent individuals that turned that day into tragedy. I believe that the Villaggio fire was a very strong wake-up call for the authorities to consider safety and security as priority in their mentoring and controlling systems. In reaction to the Villaggio fire, the authorities obliged all buildings (especially ones housing children) to follow their new rules on safety and security, to be accomplished during a specific period of time. However, I think that such a “wake-up call” should be followed and evaluated continuously in order to ensure that it is still valid and effective. These lessons have been learned with pain, surely. Socially, the event affected the Qatari community, which showed its sympathy to the kids' families. Security-wise, the Qatari community became less trusting of the safety systems in the public places. Although it is a year since the event, the Villaggio fire is still a debated topic, especially for the Qataris at “Majlis" gatherings, and particularly the issue of the trial of the owners. On the other side, the authorities are taking very serious preventive actions when it comes to future constructions.

-SECTION 3

SEEKING TRANSPARENCY
By Mohammed Al-Jufairi, Contracts Engineer at Dolphin Energy Company
When I first heard about the Villaggio Mall fire, I was skeptical about the intensity of the blaze. I thought it was just another "kitchen fire," which is common in Qatar and not newsworthy. However, as news of the seriousness of the blaze started to spread, I was very nervous, worried and restless. I was praying that no one was hurt. When it was clear that people died, I think the Qatari community was angry and heartbroken at the same time over the tragedy. Never has Qatar been so united in grief and sorrow - both government and citizens together, expats and locals. People felt very sympathetic toward the victims - which is natural considering we are all humans. On the day of the fire, we were angry about the lack of media coverage on this story. The media should be ashamed of themselves. Period. We rely on Twitter for these kind of issues - and Twitter is only as reliable as the person who tweeted, which cannot be determined. We had to wait eight hours before the government-based state TV channel told us what happened. The government has a tough job trying to balance the information that needs to go out to the public without contributing to the chaos or panic that might follow, considering Qatar is a small community. That, however is no excuse for not trying to cover this story live, as it happened.

I am definitely seeing an improvement toward people incorporating aspects of fire safety in homes, workplaces, and schools. But I think that at the time of the tragedy, people were more active and vocal than they are now. People should not become complacent; they should not stop thinking about safety or talking about it.

it was to a bittersweet reception. and minus one whole section of the mall. When it did reopen in September 2012.CHAPTER 6 VILLAGGIO NOW Villaggio mall closed for three and a half months after the fire. .

Photo Credit: Penny Yi Wang .

There’s some evidence to suggest that an unofficial boycott from some residents has had an impact. One whole section is actually missing. say going back to the way things used to be is impossible. “Foot traffic is not the same as it was a year ago .that’s a fact. the re-opening was a sign that things were returning to normal after the tragedy. According to a retail manager there. the mall definitely sees fewer visitors than before. Others. This is in part because when Villaggio re-opened in . rests the site of one of the country’s most devastating tragedies. with some even expressing relief after going the whole summer without it. They wouldn’t know that behind the elegant screen. who asked to remain anonymous. It is backed by an enormous fresco depicting Venice on a summer’s day. Given the mixed feelings of the community and a lack of public comment from the mall’s management. “Everybody’s well aware of that. next to the mouth of its canal. so the mall (management) will point to that and say it’s not at 100 percent capacity. For others. especially the victims’ relatives. and have urged a boycott of the mall until key questions about its role in the fire are answered.-SECTION 1 BUSINESS AS USUAL? Near the Gate 3 entrance to Villaggio Mall.” he said. you might wonder how things have changed at Villaggio. which people regularly stand in front of to pose for photos. but it’s obvious that the numbers are down. Those visiting Villaggio for the first time might think that this truncated corridor has always been part of the mall.” Some who have not returned say they still do not feel the mall has done enough to address safety concerns. a large gondola is on display. Many Qatar residents said they were happy when the mall reopened.

who asked not to be named as he isn't authorized to speak on record about the mall . Gondolania. That’s not to say the place is a ghost town – not even close. along with the Nike shop where the fire started. half a dozen children were stuck on a ride at the mall’s indoor theme park. . he said.” he said. where Gympanzee had been located. as the mall teemed with a constant stream of mid-week shoppers. But there is still a lack of confidence among some members of the public that the mall has really gotten a grip on safety.and no explanation about what changes have been made to shore up safety. He added that Civil Defense has become noticeably stricter. Other than that. There were there for about an hour after a technical malfunction suddenly stopped the ride. However. Maintenance checks now occur more regularly and employees are far more vigilant of potential hazards. When Doha News visited on a Monday morning in early May. it did so with little fanfare . things have indeed improved. Regardless. there are moments for concern. “They will shut down shops for any misdemeanors and won’t even give them a warning.told us that safetywise. The children.September. who were wedged in their seats upside down in mid-air. the retail manager . the only ostensible difference from a year ago was the closure of the section between Gate 3 and Gate 4. it certainly appeared to be business as usual.with management even removing floral tributes left near the closed corridors . Villaggio management and representatives have repeatedly declined Doha News’ requests for comment about fire. especially any wiring or electrical problems. In October of 2012. were eventually rescued by Civil Defense. cheery shop assistants on their break and office workers hurrying in and out to grab lunch.

Erin and James Olsen.None of the kids suffered any injuries. . There was no padding to put underneath the dangling children. whose son had been among those stuck on the ride. but all were crying.. Photos by Housam Elkouteini . and some of them had vomited. There was not even a member of the Gondolania or Villaggio management who bothered to talk to us or offer any support throughout the entirety of the event. but other areas appeared untouched.but no one seemed to know where or even if such things existed). There were no ladders or other machinery to reach up to the children (such things were sought after the whole time ..It’s clear that much more work is needed here.” Gallery 6. told Doha News about their experience: “It’s not clear that those responsible for Gondolania had any more idea what to do in the situation than we did.1 – Villaggio After the Fire Many shops between Gates 3 & 4 of the mall were destroyed.

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yet there was very little being done to get people outside the mall… There must have been a good couple hundred people inside as this was the midnight movie show on a weekend night. fire department and Fazaa were arriving. Witness Fahad Al-Hedfa told Doha News that the fire alarm began ringing shortly after he and his friends sat down for a 1am show. Later that week.And just last month. Villaggio was evacuated after an air-conditioning unit in a clothing store malfunctioned. "I went to see and the smoke (was) coming from one of the popcorn machines. which to some seemed eerily reminiscent of the day of the fire. late-night movie-goers were forced to exit the cinema after a popcorn machine caught on fire. People were covering their faces because the smoke spread everywhere and even after three hours of getting out of Villaggio I was tasting the smoke in my mouth.” .” Movie-goer Faizan Aziz adds his views: “By the time we exited the mall. the Civil Defence.

or during any of the other incidents although photos of the damage at the ice cream shop spread rapidly on social media. Safety concerns have also been raised at Landmark Mall after the ceiling at its Haagen Dazs branch suddenly collapsed last month.” But in fact.The small fires have prompted many a claim on Facebook and Twitter by Qatar residents that Villaggio is “cursed. minor fires are a regular occurrence in almost all of the country’s malls. with residents once again questioning whether buildings here are up to code. is has to be managed. Management of fire risk has to be continuous. “Correctly specified construction of a building is only the beginning. Once built. As Doha News commenter ENHUGE pointed out. and City Center Mall is still retooling its main food court after a fire broke out at McDonald’s early in 2012. Similar evacuations have occurred at neighboring Hyatt Plaza this past year. There were no reported injuries at Landmark . it is not a single tick box then to be forgotten.” .

Goddard watched guards shutter the main entrances to the store in a bid to clear out shoppers before closing at prayer time. But apart from concerns about safety. I think it fell on deaf ears…I don't feel 100 percent safe shopping there. disquieting moment there rarely goes unnoticed. But these were sometimes confusing. During a visit in May of this year. another issue causing concern among some Qatar residents is the limbo the mall is in. another sign points you back the way you came. While there on a Friday. is that Villaggio is now peppered with emergency exit signs. One noticeable improvement. . in the food court area near McDonald’s. legally speaking. and the only way out was squeezing through the checkout lanes. but I have to say. any small. a health and safety engineer here. a Doha News reporter estimated that she was never more than 30 meters away from a sign.-SECTION 2 IN LIMBO Because the fire that claimed 19 lives took place at Villaggio. “I told the managers they were in breach of the fire safety laws by closing the doors when there were still people inside. past the cashiers. one exit sign points away from main entrance to the passageway where toilets are. When you get there. because the signs are double-sided. Nathan Goddard. though. and I do often feel that safety is neglected. But up to 150 people were still inside the store.” Goddard said. For example. recounts a recent experience he had at the mall’s Carrefour supermarket. The direction they tell you to go in depends on which side you are looking at them from.

In the meantime. and not just shoppers. When will the people responsible ever be punished? Where is the justice?” Another commenter. it might make a difference. I am boycotting (the mall).Four Villaggio officials are on trial over their roles in the deadly fire. Jennifer Keramianakis.” said the retail manager. long-standing rumors that the mall would be demolished and a park built in its place picked up steam again. however. something to show that Villaggio recognizes what happened. but if there was some kind of reconciliation.” . also feel this way. Some residents. When Doha News polled readers about how they felt toward Villaggio a year on from the fire. but still appear to hold no water. continue to hold on to the idea that mall officials should offer a lasting tribute to the 19 lives lost.” After the fire. Everyone who was there before – including the four on trial – is still in the same position. knowing the poor families who have lost their little angels and loved ones. said: “I find it very hard to go there. Hannah Shurey responded: “Out of respect for the families that have suffered these horrendous losses. have been treated with such disrespect and disregard during the legal proceedings. the Villaggio staff we spoke to confirmed that there have been no changes to the mall’s management team since the fire. and provide a permanent reminder that a tragedy like this must not be allowed to happen again. One can't help but wonder if the guilty parties ever will ever be brought to justice. “ People aren’t coming because of what happened. adding that many staff members. “A lot of people want some kind of recognition of the fact. A court verdict to determine criminal responsibility in the 19 deaths is expected on June 20.

Abd Elmasseih Antonios Mina Eskandar. The civil engineer recalls that it was early in the morning and officials were doing a trial with the fire alarm . near the site of the Gympanzee nursery. So far.He hinted that a memorial could be included when the newly renovated section. did attend the soft opening of the mall to see if anything had changed. father of 18-month-old Evana. “I was stunned at that. though. said she just has one wish: “To go see the exact place where my daughter took her last breath…will I be permitted?” . the 28 year-old South African teacher who died in the fire. a black ribbon does remain on its website. almost all have refused to step inside of Villaggio.” he said.which still didn’t work. The mother of Shameega Charles. Notably. is reopened. Whether any kind of formal memorial inside the mall could offer comfort to the families of the victims is another matter.

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