الجمعة، أكتوبر 07، 2005

Testimonies

Testimony of Mahmoud Sayed Khalil (First Year Student, Academy of ArtsHigher Institute of Theatre Arts, Setting Department)

He was the assistant setting designer of the play “Who of us is – The Zoo", performed by al-Fayoum Theatre Troupe, in the Amateur Theatre Festival, on September 5, 2005, in Beni Sweif Governorate. Before I begin recording his testimony, I asked him where he was at the time of the accident. He told me that as assistant setting designer for Mohammad Mustafa, the setting designer of the performance and victim of the accident, he was to stand during the performance at the far end of the art gallery, where the play was performed, beside a small open exit door to prevent people from interfering with some light projectors used in the performance. Mahmoud: At the end of the performance, while performers salute the audience, fire broke out, all of a sudden and in few seconds, it was a meter and a half height and a meter width. The audience was completely terrified, with most of them standing speechless. None was able to utter a word. Some girls screamed and I tried to call out my colleagues, but nobody heard me. I ran across the two-meter passage. The first explosion was after three seconds. The air conditioner blew up. The corners of the room were made of wood and the walls were covered with plywood. It was unbelievably inflammable. We asked: Was the art gallery basically furnished with this plywood (or it was a part of the setting)? Mahmoud: It was basically furnished with this plywood. The ceiling was made of foam supported by aluminum bars. Foam may melt because of high temperature, let alone fire! Mahmoud: There were no security guards or safety preparations whatsoever. A single firefighter came with only one fire extinguisher that was empty, and a small extinguisher that befits a car, I believe. The firefighter died. By the force of explosion I was pushed out, finding myself at the door of the Palace (the main entrance of the Cultural Palace). I got out. I called and searched for my colleagues and found none of them. Mahmoud: Being outside the Palace, I found one of my colleagues getting out: Mohamed Shawqi. He was in flames. People put him out. Shawqi had almost no countenance – the skin of his face was falling. I sat in front of him, and kept telling him that I am Mahmoud, "Do you not know me?" He was not able to see or to figure out anything and he fell over the pavement. I kept sitting in front of him, unknowing what to do and unable to utter a word. What was it around you then? Mahmoud: Some people running, others screaming, so many people coming out of the burning hall, in flames. Some people were desperately trying to call for an ambulance. Then the final explosion took place. An electric cable blew up to destroy the other locked door. It is a pity that the ambulance came after half an hour. I was standing in front of Shawqi, who was lying on the ground to die. I ran to the ambulance to find that it was not equipped for anything. There was nothing, nothing at all. A fire engine arrived after about 2/3 hour (40 minutes), with hoses not emitting water! Not a drop of water came out of it, as if its hoses were blocked. What was wrong? Nobody told me. Only after the second fire engine had come, the fire began to be put out. When the ambulance team arrived, what exactly did they do? Mahmoud: They started to carry the injured in a very strange way, inhuman one. Not a single doctor in the ambulance to deal with any case; all of them were nurses. Collected by Azza El-Husseiny Testimony of Sherif Mustafa Idris (An actor and graduate of the Academy of Arts)

A friend of the late Mohamed Mustafa, the setting designer of the performance of the disaster I received a phone call from Mahmoud (the setting assistant of the performance of the conflagration, and witness of the accident) from which I could understand nothing but that the theatre caught fire, Mohamed Shawqi was injured and transferred to the hospital, Shady Munir El-Weseemi was injured too, and that they could not find Mohamed Ibrahim or Mohamed Mustafa, my brother and colleague. I phoned some of my colleagues and we traveled to Beni Sweif and arrived there at 01:30 am. The security situation in the country was of tension and the hospital gates were barred allowing nobody in. I tried all means to enter the hospital and failed. All people were out and I could understand nothing at all; nobody knows who is injured. When we were traveling to the city we did not imagine the case would be like that. We thought it to be a small accident and perhaps some people were slightly injured. When I arrived I began to understand; our friend Mahmoud collapsed and did not know what is going on. All I cared for was to make sure that my brother and our colleagues are safe. I ran from the police soldiers and entered the hospital. There I found that it was cordoned by the Central Security Force. I entered and found four police officers standing; I said to them: I have just come from Cairo and my colleagues are in there but I can’t find them. One of them asked me to come to him. He asked, "Are you brave-hearted?"I said yes. I just want to see Mohamed Mustafa, the setting designer of the theatre performance. I was not worried about Shady as he was in the list of the injured when I reached there, at 01:30 am (Shady died later on). I entered with the police officer to a room. As soon as I entered I asked, "Is it a store space for settings or what? I have nothing to do here; I am searching for my friends." I found mannequins thrown on the floor, no features, no hair. I was shocked when he told me that these are the corpses of the dead of the fire. I started to carefully examine them; I identified Dr. Mohsen Mesilhi from his wedding ring and Mohamed Mustafa, my brother and colleague, from his training shoes. I collapsed and fainted. They took me out of that store space, finding no injection or whatsoever to get me back my consciousness. The hospital was absolutely not well-equipped. After I calmed down a bit, I went to the morgue room. It was an empty room with no air conditioner, a fan or an outlet for ventilation. The smell of the charred corpses was penetrating. 29 corpses were on the floor, 29 charred bodies. I did not know what to do. Every minute we would hear the death of another one of our friends. They kicked me out of the hospital because the governor was coming. We kept sitting nightlong in front of the gates of the hospital, as they (security cordoning the hospital) refused to let us in. At midday, the next day, we saw shrouds which were enough for everybody, yet they asked us to go and buy shrouds and come back to wrap our families with our own hands. We did; we wrapped our colleagues and professors with our own hands. The Fact-Finding Committee September 5 Group