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Local News - Victoria

Nun saves school children from deadly gas


Sister Bernardine, a fifth-grade teacher, ran back into a chlorine-filled dressing room to make sure all her children were safe.

Last night, Sister Bernardine and the 37 children from St John’s School, Heidelberg, were in hospital in a satisfactory condition.

The drama started as children were dressing to leave the enclosed pool. Several children started to cry and feel sick.

Sister Bernardine saw swimming instructor, Mr. George Aghan, being sick.

The whole group could smell the chlorine.

Sister Bernardine assembled the children, and got them out of the pool area.

She then dashed back to the pool to check that there were no children left in the dressing room.

Mr. Aghan also helped her check.

The children aged between 9 and 12, were rushed to Austin Hospital in a chartered bus.

The accident happened about 11.30 a.m. when a valve slipped under pressure, while Mr. Aghan was changing the chlorine chambers.

At Austin Hospital all were given emergency treatment.

Those worst affected were kept at Austin, and others were transferred to five other Melbourne hospitals.

A hospital spokesman at Austin said some children could develop complications in the next 48 hours.

The spokesman said some children could suffer heart failure and fluid on the lungs from the gas.

It would take about 48 hours for “trouble” signs to develop, he said.

All patients would be kept under observation for at least 24 hours.

But concerned as the doctors may be, most of the children managed to raise a smile last night.

“It all happened so quickly,” Sister Bernardine said from her hospital bed.

“One of the children tugged my sleeve and said, “Sister, the man is doing something with the gas.”

“There was a terrible smell, a man was being sick. I got the children out of the place and we ran up the hill and sat by the stream.

“The children were crying and looking sickly. I was frightened there may be some children inside so I went back and called out “Is anybody there?”

“There was no answer.”

Sister Bernardine said she then suddenly remembered she had exactly $3.60 with her.

“It was 10 cents for each child to go into the pool, so I realised I should have had 36 children.

“I counted them all up and there were 37… what a relief it was that there was one more and not one less.”

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