Pang regroups after fire destroys Attagoyuk School

The air in Pangnirtung is thick with smoke this week and the snow is peppered with black soot. Even people at nearby outpost camps knew something terrible had happened.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

TODD PHILLIPS

After Pangnirtung’s Attagoyuk School burned down this week, elder Siloah Metuq went shopping.

The respected elder brought two Northern Store bags stuffed with pens, pencils and notebooks to a shaken group of Attagoyuk teachers who had gathered at Alookie School.

“It was very touching,” says teacher Karen Albu, who says Metuq’s gesture helped remind teachers that they have to put the past behind them and start rebuilding their school.

“We’ll start from scratch again. Tomorrow is a new day.”

The longtime Baffin teacher said students should remember that they are the school ­ not any building.

Lost memories

But Albu, and many others in the community, say they are deeply saddened by the loss of all of the irreplaceable items that had been gathered over the years.

“A lot of the curriculum I developed has just disappeared,” Albu said.

Hundreds of photographs of elders, graduates and graduation ceremonies that lined the school’s walls, and filled scrap books and photo albums are lost forever ­ years of memories.

“The whole history of the school is gone,” said teacher Raynier O’Dell, who has been working at the Attagoyuk School for three years.

Flames spread quickly

Raynier O’Dell was at a baby shower for his little boy when someone rushed in and said the school was on fire.

When he first arrived at the school, there was smoke but no flames. Soon after though, he says the roof caught fire and the flames spread quickly.

O’Dell’s videotaped footage of the school burning was broadcast on CBC’s Igalaaq.

“A lot of teachers are very upset by it. There’s a lot of work that’s been lost,” O’Dell said.

Teacher Daisy Dialla lost 20 years worth of Inuktitut language materials, including cassette tapes of interviews with elders, and a photograph collection.

Workers were putting the finishing touches to Phase 2 of a new wing of the school when the fire broke out just after two p.m. Sunday.

In less than two hours, the one-storey school was gone.

Watched quietly

A large crowd watched helplessly as firefighters turned their efforts to saving nearby portables where students were attending class until renovations were finished.

“Watching the fire, people were crying and holding onto each other. It was really something­really awful,” Albu said.

O’Dell says people were quiet as they watched the school burn down.

“There was a sense of sadness. Especially when there was no saving it,” O’Dell said. “I think people were shocked. You think it’s something that will never happen.”

No one was seriously hurt in the fire, although one firefighter fell unconscious and had to be treated for smoke inhalation at the health centre.

Investigation continues

Investigators still haven’t determined what started the fire.

People in Pangnirtung were told this week that a new school won’t likely be ready until the fall of 1998.

“It’s completely gone. To the ground,” said the hamlet’s senior administrative officer Rita Mike.” Everything in it, everything… It’s just a pile of steel beams.”

Mike, who is also the coordinator for emergency measures, said the hamlet’s lone fire truck was on the scene as were the hamlet’s water trucks, but they didn’t have much of a chance.

“When the flames came out we knew instantly that the fire department would not be able to put it out and control it so what we did was save the nearby buildings instead,” she said.

“All of us were devastated during the fire and the day after,” Mike added.

Reduced to rubble

O’Dell says officials have asked people to stay away from the school while the investigation is going on. But he says there’s not much to see anyway.

“It’s a big pile of rubble over there,” says O’Dell “It’s black and a lot of things are covered with ice… It’s an eyesore.”

About 200 students from Grades 6-12 have been given an extra long weekend until officials can sort out where they will resume their studies.

High school students were expected back on Thursday and Grades 6-9 students on Monday.

Students are also struggling to cope with their loss. Some are calling teachers at home asking how they can help out.

Others are spending their days playing street hockey waiting for word on when they can resume their studies.

Rebuilding begins

The school’s teachers have been going to work every day, jotting down notes in their little notebooks borrowed from elementary school students.

They are trying to remember what was in their classrooms, and are trying to plan to order new supplies.

The local education council held a meeting this week to assure residents a new school would be built, and to work out makeshift plans so that students can continue their school year.

The elementary school and the Nunavut Arctic College adult learning centre have agreed to let students share their facilities.

People in nearby outpost camps saw the smoke that lingered around the community for days afterwards.

Winds started moving the smoke away Wednesday but the smell, and the black soot in snowbanks throughout the community is a constant reminder to residents of their loss.

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