An unprecedented trauma

By Kawai Leung, 11/02/2017

Mixed emotions have struck me since last night’s catastrophe on the MTR.

The trauma happened at around 7.15pm on an ordinary metro car packed with passengers. There was fire everywhere. A middle-aged man, who was found to suffer from mental disorder, claimed to have put up the fire intentionally. He sprayed thinner over himself and lit himself up with a lighter. Witnesses evidenced his screams of revenge on society due to ‘the death of his son’ which had never happened. 17 were injured.

I was scared. I was on the MTR leaving HKU at that time, heading to Tsim Sha Tsui for dinner. I could have been involved in the incident had I left school 10 minutes earlier. I suddenly realise life is so fragile that it may be lost at the blink of an eye. It is hideous that death slips by us at a distance within our reach — so far as it may seem, yet so close in reality.

The lack of space was why the trauma was resulted. A cabin with no means to escape is no different from a deadly concentration camp with a bomb in it. This has led me reflect — how could the plot be rewritten if such a tragic incident happened again. Firstly, it is noteworthy that ordinary people (even the MTR staff) do not know how should the fire extinguisher, if there is any on the MTR, be correctly utilised. It is purposeless if there is one but it cannot perform its role. I believe education, for instance through advertisements in the mass media, is an effective means to enhance the public’s understanding of its use. Secondly, this incident has unveiled the inadequacy of safety equipment in a crowded space like the MTR. There was no auto-sprinkler system, or even if there was, it should be replaced and improved due to its malfunction at such a critical moment. Thirdly, the MTR corporation can consider upgrading its safety measures by referencing the practice of other places. In China, MTR stations in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have installed safety inspection equipment and the police would disallow flammable or explosive substances detected to be brought onto the train.

I was disheartened. The man put up the fire on purpose, and it can be rationally believed that he did intend to cause harm to others. He chose to do so during rush hours — when the MTR was tightly packed, when there was no extra space and no means to escape from the horrifying scene, when he could truly hurt others. This incident has stirred a heated debate on whether the man with an unsound mind should be blamed for his act, for his intention might not have originated from his ordinary motives. Indeed, this group of less fortunate people deserve more social and medical attention. Yet, weren’t the injured equally, or even more, innocent? If he need not be blamed, it is to me that an unsound-minded person can ‘legitimately’ harm anyone without facing any consequences which an ordinary person ought to face. This is nonsense, utterly unfair and unsafe to our society.

I was furious. Videos of the incident were uploaded onto Facebook immediately after it had happened. Though they provide us with timely information and breaking news, it would be too inconsiderate when the injured were at the junction of life and death, suffering from physical pain and psychological instability, people were still taking pictures of the scene as if they were tourists.

The next big issue that we need to address, is the most unfortunate, yet probable, occurrence of terrorist attack in Hong Kong, as it has happened in many prosperous cities like Paris and Berlin. What if this incident was an intentional and planned attack? How should the people and the police prepare for the worst? This is a question to be addressed in the future, but not too soon, I hope.

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