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Review of the Kumbakonam school fire in India: Lessons learned

Ajinder Walia, PhD, Sujata Satapathy, PhD


A school fire at a government-aided school in Kumbakonam, India, killed 93 children and injured 21 on July 16, 2004. The school was tailor-made for a disaster, with its narrow stairway, poor lighting, thatched roof, kitchen in close proximity of the school building, past incidences of minor fire breakouts, and only one collapsible exit in the classroom. Strong winds and an absence of teachers on the day of the tragedy added to the vulnerability of the school, leading to the disaster. The government responded to the situation ef - fectively by providing adequate physical relief and rehabilitation to the parents of the deceased children and to injured students. The government was supported by various nongovernmental organizations and the corporate sector, which rose to the occasion. Psychosocial counseling was also carried out for the affected parents. Various recommendations resulting from analysis of the event in - clude developing comprehensive district and school disaster management plans using a multihazard approach, ensuring the safety of the school, instituting a proper psychiatric referral system for the affected, counseling the injured and rescued students to facilitate their relocation in different schools, training teachers and all others involved in school management in disaster management, and educating students about fire safety in school.



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