Elham Asaad Buaras
Thirty people have died and 12 are in critical condition, in a West London tower block fire that started just after 1 am in the early hours of June 14. With entire families from Grenfell Tower in North Kensington unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to rise to about 100. Firefighters rescued 65 people from the tower which houses approximately 600 people living in 127 flats.
The London Ambulance Service said a total of 24 people are being treated in different hospitals around the capital after the fire, thought to have been sparked by a faulty refrigerator. Witnesses said people were trapped in the 24-storey building and that some jumped and threw their children from windows in an effort to escape. Mahad Egal, who lived in the 24-storey block, described the scenes as “really, really horrific”, and said residents “saw a lot” before breaking down in tears.
Egal was comforted by BBC News presenter Victoria Derbyshire as he struggled to finish the heartbreaking interview. “This was really, really horrific. There’s a man who threw two of his children. We saw a lot, we saw a lot man. We saw a lot with our own eyes, we saw friends, families…” he said.
Rose Collier said she saw a 6-year-old girl jump out of a window.“They were images I will never forget,” said the 53-year-old. Prime Minister, Theresa May, has ordered a full public inquiry into the fire adding, “If there are any lessons to be learned they will be”. However, the PM has been accused of failing to show “humanity” after she carried out a private visit to the scene of the tragedy on June 15 but did not meet any survivors or locals. The decision was made due to “security reasons”, it was claimed, but local residents were furious that she did not stop to listen to their concerns.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan confirmed 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters were deployed to evacuate residents and said many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment blocks around London adding that, “Questions need to be answered as soon as possible.”
Many of those who survived only did so by ignoring official advice to stay in their rooms and close their front doors until the fire was over. Michael Paramasivan, who was in his 7th floor flat, said: “If we’d listened to them and stayed in the flat we’d have perished.”
Fire experts believe that cosmetic cladding added to the building’s exterior in the last two years may have acted as an accelerant and may be largely to blame for the scale of the devastation. The cladding was also used on other buildings that have been hit by fires around the world. The exterior cladding had a polyethylene – or plastic – core instead of an, even more, fireproof alternative. High-rise buildings in France, the UAE and Australia that had similar cladding have all been hit by fires that spread.
Harrowing stories come from within the tower as entire families are wiped out.
Terrified victims trapped inside the inferno exchanged heart-breaking final messages with their families. Some pleaded to be rescued, others simply wanted to say goodbye. Among the many people still missing is a 30-year-old mother who shot a chilling Facebook Live video whilst trapped on the 23rd floor of the blazing inferno.
Rania Ibrahim, 30, was in her flat with her two children, aged three and five, when the raging fire engulfed her apartment. Her husband was in Egypt but he flew back as soon as he heard the news. In the distressing clip, Ibrahim, who is from Sudan, can be heard screaming for help as she tries to find a way out of the burning building.
Ibrahim also sent a message to her friend Maseen, who lives near the huge tower block. Maseen said: “I received a Snapchat video from Rania at 3 am just after the fire started and I haven’t heard from her since. She lives on the top floor and her husband was not home because he is on holiday.”
She said the message showed her friend was trapped and praying and she had written in Arabic: “Forgive me, everyone. Goodbye.”
Teaching assistant Nadia Choucair, 33, was in a flat on an upper floor with her husband, her mother Malak and her 3 young daughters, one of whom who called a friend at 2 am to say: “Goodbye. We’re not going to make it. I love you.”
The Choucairs are not the only families feared dead in the blaze. Fears were also growing for missing three-year-old Amaya Tukuh, who was on the 19th floor with her mother Amal Ahmadin, father Mohammed and cousin Amna. Community worker Barsenet Zewde said: “They were all in the flat and nothing else was heard of them.”
Relatives of Abdul Aziz el-Wahabi, 52, his wife Faouzia el-Wahabi, 42, and their three children, Yasin, 21, Nur Huda, 15, and Mehdi, eight, told the Standard they were all now believed to have died. Otman Boujettif, 42, a cousin, said: “An entire family’s been wiped out. We spoke to them at about 1.30am but they’d been told by the fire brigade to stay in their flat, put towels down, wet the floors and wait.”
The first victim of the tragedy has been named as a Syrian refugee who made a devastating final phone call to his family, telling them “the fire is here”. Mohammed Al Haj Ali lived with his brother Omar, who is understood to be in hospital. After a failed escape bid the 23-year-old civil engineering student returned to his 14th floor flat, where he was trapped for two hours, calling family and friends in Syria, who he eventually told “the fire is here now, goodbye”. Ali had tried to flee the inferno with his brother but the two became separated on the stairs of the building.
Among the missing (as of June 15):
Abdul Aziz el-Wahabi, 52, his wife Faouzia el-Wahabi, 42, & their children, Yasin, 21, Nurhuda , 15, & Mehdi, 8 (21st floor)
Ali Yawar Jafari, 84 (11th floor)
Amal Ahmadin, her husband Mohammed & daughter Amaya Tukuh, 3 & niece Amna (19th floor)
Anthony Disson, 66 (22nd floor)
Berikti Habtom, 35 & her son Buroke, 12 (floor unreported)
Dennis Murphy, 56 (14th floor)
Farah Hamdan, 23, her husband Omar Belkadi & Leena daughter 6 month old (20th floor)
Fathaya Alsanousi, her son Abu Feras, 38 & her daughter Esra Ibrahim, 35 (23rd floor)
Hamid Kani, 61, (15th floor)
Hesham El-Raaman, 57, (20th floor)
Isaac Paulos, 2 (floor unreported)
Isaac Shawo, 5 (18th floor)
Jessica Urbano, 12 (20th floor)
Karim Musilly (19th floor)
Khadija Saye, 24 and her mother Mary Mendy (20th floor)
Komru Miah, 82, his wife Razia Begum, 65, their children Abdul Hanif, 29, Abdul Hamid, 26 and Hosna Begum Tanima, 22 (16th floor)
Ligaya Moore, 79 (21st floor)
Marco Gottardi & Gloria Trevisan both 27 (23rd floor)
Maria Ali, 51 & her husband Khalid Ali, 61 (10th floor)
Maria Del Pilar Burton, 65 (floor unreported)
Mariem Elgwahry, 27 & her mother Eslah Elgwahry, 64 (19th floor)
Marjorie Vital & Ernie Vital (16th floor)
Mohamednur Tuccu, 44 (19th floor)
Mohammed Saber Neda, 57, (24th floor)
Nadia Choucair, 30, her mother Malak, with her husband Bassem, 32, & children Mierna, 14, Fatima, 11 & Zieanab,3 (22nd floor)
Nura Jamal, her husband Hashim Kedir & their children Yahya 13, Firdows 11 & Yaqub 6 (23rd floor)
Rania Ibrahim, 30 & her daughters Fathia 5 & Hania 3 (23rd floor)
Raymond Bernard, 53 (21st floor)
Sheila Smith, 84 (16th floor)
Steve Power, 63 (19th floor)
Zainab Dean & her son Jeremiah, 2 (14th floor)