School closure saves lives of pupils

Rocket pierces through Beersheba classroom ceiling; kindergarten sustains hit; none wounded.

By ABE SELIG
December 31, 2008 08:49
4 minute read.
School closure saves lives of pupils

survey gaza. (photo credit: )

Beersheba experienced its second day on the front lines Wednesday as Hamas stepped up Grad-type rocket attacks, striking an open area and a high school - the second educational institution in the city to be hit since rockets began falling there Tuesday night. A day earlier, a kindergarten was hit. Fortunately, both schools were closed due to the security situation, and no one was hurt. It had been unclear late Tuesday if children were to return to their classrooms on Wednesday in the south's largest city. But a final decision came at 4 a.m.,when Mayor Rubik Danilovitz met with officials from the Home Front Command and other security services. They decided to keep the schools closed as the situation in Gaza was likely to continue for days. If proved to be a prescient decision: hours later, the first Grad of the morning slammed into the Comprehensive Alef high school near the city center. The rocket pierced through the ceiling of a classroom around 9:30 a.m. - where ninth graders would have been sitting had school been open. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to imagine what would have happened here if school had not been canceled today," National Parents Organization head Yitzhak Maimon said as he toured the classroom. "The mayor and the Home Front Command made the right decision, and it's going to stay this way for the foreseeable future." There were no injuries in the city, but a number of people were treated for shock. The damage could be seen from outside the building, as concrete on the second floor crumpled from the hit, and rocks and other debris were scattered on the ground. Inside, rubble covered the hallway, and a pupil's painting - two sharks swimming carefree in the ocean - lay on the floor, covered by concrete and dust. The classroom itself had a hole through the roof, and a desk, directly beneath the rocket's entry point, had been hit dead-on. The explosion created another hole in the wall, and ceiling tiles were thrown in every direction. Ball bearings and bolts, which terrorists often pack into the rockets to increase their deadliness, had sprayed throughout the classroom, leaving holes in the walls. Parents and security personnel gawked at the damage, saying quiet thank you's that no one had been in the room at the time of the strike. Across town at the kindergarten hit on Tuesday evening - the first strike in the city - the damage was just as haunting. While that rocket struck long after the children had gone home, it landed in the playground, spraying the same type of ball bearings as far as a block away. The marks and holes from the shrapnel could be seen from the playground back into the building, as workers struggled to piece back together the ceiling tiles, some of which had been blasted 20 meters away from the building. At a nearby home, Raisa Zaberoff, a 70-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Union, struggled to put the blinds back up in her bedroom. Her backyard, which faces the kindergarten, was also sprayed with shrapnel, leaving scars on the fence posts and windowsills of her home, and shattering the windows. "Look here," she said in broken Hebrew, pointing at the ceiling in her kitchen. "Somehow the shrapnel got all the way into here." She gestured toward holes in her ceiling. "But my neighbors across the street said even their windows were broken," Zaberoff continued. "I just keep thanking God that I was at my daughter's house when it happened, and that the kids had already gone home from school." Zaberoff said she heard a few of the sirens that sounded on Wednesday - five were reported in all. She knew that parts of the city had no siren system, and in others that did, it simply wasn't working. Other residents complained of similar problems. "I didn't hear the siren, but I sure heard that boom," said a young woman who had ventured out to walk her dog. "What's going on? Why can't they fix the siren?" By early afternoon, the Home Front Command had begun tackling the problem, telling reporters in front of City Hall that all of the sirens had been fixed. "There was a brief hiccup with the siren system this morning, but we've fixed it and residents will be able to hear their sirens if they go off," Deputy OC Home Front Command Brig. Gen. Avraham Ben-David told The Jerusalem Post. "However, some parts of the city are not equipped with sirens at all, but they will be within the next 48 hours," he said. "However, for residents in those areas, and they know who they are, I cannot stress how important it is that they keep a radio on and keep an eye on their TV, because, for example, Radio Darom is working with the Home Front Command to broadcast the siren every time it sounds," he said. Still, the possible lack of a working siren scared many people into staying home for the day. "I'm staying in until this blows over," Miri Shalom said as she stood in front of her apartment building in the Alef neighborhood. "Siren or no siren, I'll only go out for a few minutes here and there." Pausing to catch her breath, Shalom expressed a sentiment felt by many residents. "I can't believe rockets are hitting Beersheba," she said. "No one believed that they could, but here they are, they're really coming down."


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