COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY INTO TUVALU’S MOTUFOUA TRAGEDY

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BACKGROUND

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (March 2000 – Tuvalu Echoes)---The Commission of Inquiry into the Motufoua fire tragedy returned to the capital on Sunday March 19th after conducting investigations on the island of Vaitupu.

The Commission was appointed last Tuesday, March 14th, to investigate the cause of the fire outbreak in the girl’s dormitory, Toaripi House, which claimed the lives of eighteen students plus their matron.

The Commission is looking into the cause of death and investigating the allegations that there might have been electrocution involved in the death of some of the students.

In addition, the Commission will assess the safety of existing dormitories and classrooms at the school and recommend design improvements. It will recommend any additional safety amenities that these facilities should be equipped with to facilitate the freeing of students from school buildings in times of emergency.

The Commission of Inquiry is now continuing its investigation on Funafuti.

The main task will involve interviewing survivors of the dormitory fire who are in the capital.

The Commission is chaired by Mr. Isakala Paeniu with members comprised of Mr. Evi Taua (President, Tuvalu Red Cross), Mrs. Kausele Losia, Mr. Tapaeko Apisai (Technical Advisor to PWD), and Mr. Iakopa Italeli (Crown Counsel).

 

PM ATTENDED FUNERAL

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (March 2000 – Tuvalu Echoes)---The Prime Minister, Hon. Ionatana Ionatana, attended the funeral of the eighteen students and their matron who died in a fire incident that destroyed their dormitory around midnight of Thursday, March 9, 2000.

On Friday afternoon, the Prime Minister and his delegation departed Funafuti on Te Mataili at 1:30 p.m. to attend the funeral of the students and their matron who died in the fire incident the night before.

Te Mataili arrived at Vaitupu at around 6 ‘o’clock that afternoon and were met by the Ulu o Kaupule, Ulu Aliki and elders of Vaitupu at the jetty. The Prime Minister and his delegation were then transported to Motufoua for the funeral.

In the Prime Minister’s delegation were the President of EKT, Rev. Eti Kine, and his wife. Rev. Kine conducted the funeral service.

When the Prime Minister and his delegation arrived at Motufoua Secondary School, all the bodies of the fire victims already had been placed in their coffins and were ready to be buried in the prepared gravesite. All the students and staff of the school were ready for the funeral.

After the funeral, the Prime Minister and his delegation and everyone who attended the service were invited by the island of Vaitupu for dinner at the Island’s meeting hall, Anipule Falekaupule. In the Falekaupule, everyone, including the students of the school, the Prime Minister and his delegation as well as everyone who attended the funeral service had dinner.

There were speeches about the terrible incident that had occurred.

On Saturday morning the PM and his delegation attended a church service, which was scheduled for 9 ‘o’clock in the morning, to mark the tragic loss of nineteen lives, a school tragedy which had never happened before in the history of Tuvalu. During the church service at Vaitupu, some of the surviving students, the Principal of the school, Mr. Namoliki Suaaliki, and the watchman on duty on the night of the incident told their stories of what they remembered of the incident at the school.

In the evening, the Prime Minister and his delegation and everyone on the island were invited to the closing feast, which was held at Anipule Falekaupule.

The Prime Minister and his delegation returned to the capital on Sunday, March 12.

 

MOTUFOUA FIRE: 19 KILLED

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (March 2000 – Tuvalu Echoes)---Everyone in the capital was shocked when the news about Motufoua came over the radio.

It was a Friday morning the 10th of March when this story was heard by every ear in the country.

Motufoua, the country’s one and only secondary school, is located on Vaitupu Island. It had been through a dreadful experience the night before.

Over the radio that morning was the Prime Minister, Hon. Ionatana Ionatana, with the breaking news and later with the list of names of the victims who passed away in this terrible incident. A matron and eighteen students were burned to death in a fire that destroyed the whole of Toaripi Girls dormitory and left only the concrete block.

Below are the names of the eighteen young girls and the matron who died in this terrible incident.

Igoa Vasega Matua Fenua

Faleakoga 5 Safuga & Tuutai Nanumaga

Pauline 5 Lotonuu & Tausese Nukulaelae

Uisau 4 Seu & Tausese Niutao

Melii 4 Malosi & Temoantei Funafuti

Lina 4 Galu & Ema Nukulaelae

Leanne 3 Peleseti & Folitau Nukulaelae

Lotuga 4 Sekifu & Pasama Vaitupu

Matapua 4 Teaikafa & Moemalie Nanumea

Matauina 4 Falani & Taukinamo Nanumea

Tealo 4 Kalepou & Malu Vaitupu

Toe 4 Fusia & Moenene Nanumea

Alitepa 3 Simeona & Tatee Nui

Lily 3 Fatu & Fitalo Nui

Kumitia 3 Tegei & Meleane Funafuti

Maiema 3 Emiliata & Eline Nanumea

Paua 3 Pouniu & Sala Niulakita

Siata 3 Tegei & Meleane Funafuti

Faana 3 Lupe & Miliama Funafuti

Matua Tausi

Niusulu Ale Ale & Vitolia Vaitupu

Toaripi Girls dormitory had thirty-six student members and the matron, Ms. Niusulu Ale. Half of the members and their matron died in the fire and the other half were very lucky to escape.

In an interview held with students who escaped the fire, they said that the fire started at around 11:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 9th when most of the students were asleep. They said that fire started after a lighted candle that had been used by one of the students for studying -- who was also a victim in the fire -- started burning her bedding after she fell asleep. The fire spread all over the dorm.

According to the students, there were three doors out of the building. One was from the matron’s cubicle and the other two were the main doors of the dormitory. They said that these three doors were all locked, as they are always locked after lights out at nine ‘o’clock in all the girls dormitories. All the windows were also barred, to stop girls and boys sneaking in and out at night. So while the fire spread and grew in intensity, they couldn’t get out of the dormitory because the two main doors could not be opened. But they were lucky that the matron’s door was forced open by some girls so some students managed to get out.

The fire couldn’t be stopped by the people who came to the scene, since it spread very fast and burned the whole building down, trapping eighteen girls and their matron.

According to the students, electricity may have caused the quick spreading of the fire and may also have caused the death of other students before they were burned.

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