A nasty piece, about a nasty subject. Well worth reading!
Twenty-three people died that day, 11 women, 9 men and 3 children. It was meant to be a friendly gathering to show the town what the 'Women's Institute for Support in Haven' had done with the locals generous donations, it showed them that, and a whole lot more.
The trouble began I think in the second half, after refreshments had been sold at the back of the cramped town hall. Slightly burnt fairy-cakes with too sickly cream, cups of too weak orange drink for the children and those driving, cups of too weak beer for the rest. All those unfortunate enough to be married to a member of W.I.S.H were there, along with about 2 friends on average for each well-meaning W.I.S.H.er, all sat in neat rows on the foldable chairs borrowed from the 2nd Haven scout group. There they all were, overheating, cramped, trying to make polite conversation in between features, faking the right level of interest during, and no one suspected a thing. It wasn't until the kick-off of the second half, a rendition of a spice girls song, performed by 3 girls too young to know better, and one slightly obese women well old enough to know better, that the first rumblings were heard. A couple of uneasy glances were exchanged among the guests, but the actual members had spent long enough in the hall to hear a wide range of noises from the not so gracefully ageing building, and they assured everyone that it was just the ancient plumbing playing up. But by the drawing of raffle tickets, the slight rumblings had escalated rapidly into an unbearable groan, and the old wooden floor was vibrating quite menacingly underneath their feet.
a child giggled, but had her launch mission cancelled at the last second by a stern parent.
"What's going on??"
the whisper went around,
"…never been this bad.."
"..maybe we should do something?."
"…call the plumber?."
One women volunteered,
Quickly this new message was passed around,
Mass hysteria suddenly took over as things began to crack under the floorboards, and screaming women ran towards the small wooden doors to the outside world. One of the 'Spice Girls', still in full costume, fainted in the intense heat of the crush, she was unintentionally kicked by her own father as he pushed his way through the crowd, trodden on by her neighbour who lived next along but one. Two broken ribs, a punctured lung, severe concussion, bruises down her left side, 'Scary Spice' was lucky, the table she was kicked under protected her from most of the danger and she was rescued when the local fire trucks turned up later.
Not so lucky were the women who had first arrived at the hall doors, finding them locked, as is common practice with private meetings, they turned to relay the message and instead saw the world explode around them. Fire shot up from underneath the stage, carrying the flimsy structure with it most of the way, showering rubble across the room. For a few seconds the air was lit up with a fierce, inescapable glow, and those stood at the door could only watch stunned as the mass of people moved inevitably towards them, their confusion written on every pale face, their lack of understanding postponed as instinct took over and they headed for escape, the locked door…the trapped women. 9 were crushed, and despite the terrible power of the gas pipes finally exploding where they past over the old fashioned, coal-burning boiler, despite the resulting shower of deadly shards of metal, in those first few seconds before, 10 of the 37 present were dead…none from the explosion.
But of course that changed; two children who had been playing near the stage were blown across the room, they died instantly. A husband of one of the members had volunteered to work the lights and sound backstage, he got trapped in the curtains in his panic and as a result was directly above the explosion. He didn't survive. 2 women and 8 men were hit by falling pieces of shrapnel, their injuries were extensive, undoubtedly fatal, but not necessarily fast in effect. Still, everybody got injured in some way, the hospital treated 8 people for whiplash, 6 broken arms, 1 broken leg and numerous cases of lead poisoning, splinters of which were working their way out for months afterwards despite the nurse's best efforts. Not even the hospital could keep count of the amount of sprains, cuts and bruises treated.
The story made front page of 'The Heralder' the next day, and a week after that an in depth report on how such a disaster could have happened was called for from the friends, relatives and locals of all involved. The funeral directors did good business in the following weeks, as did local builders and plumbers as the town hall was slowly rebuilt. But the funerals eventually went back to the usual one a month, work dried up for the tradesmen as the hall neared completion, and the story drifted back into the town consciousness, save for the watered down retellings of old men in pubs, all insisting that they had been there. And such a large scale disaster as had happened in the small town of Haven, quickly became old news as it struggled to compete with general elections; which liar lied the least this year. A kidnapping in Exeter. The mutilated body of a teenager found by a train station in Manchester.
Against such horrors of the nation, indeed the world, the carelessness of a town hall with their heating arrangements paled to insignificance. Eventually the report was dropped and filed incomplete.
The world always moves on, and God help those who stand in the way.