Witnesses recall London fire horror as questions swirl over building safety
Witnesses recall London fire horror as questions swirl over building safety
June 14, 2017
The Globe & Mail
Article by: Paul Waldie
This handout image received by local resident Natalie Oxford early on June 14, 2017 shows flames and smoke coming from a 27-storey block of flats
after a fire broke out in west London. (Natalie Oxford/Getty Images)
Fourzi Zahra can’t get the sound of the children screaming out of his mind.
“I keep thinking about the screams of the children,” Mr. Zahra said Wednesday as he fought back tears while standing a block away from the smouldering Grenfell Tower apartment building in west London. The stench of the burning tower still filled the air and bits of debris continued to fall like black snow.
A fast-moving overnight fire engulfed the 24-storey apartment tower on Wednesday, killing twelve people and injuring 74 others, police said.
Mr. Zhara was watching a film Tuesday night around midnight when he smelled smoke coming in from his open balcony window. He rushed outside as fire engines pulled up in front of the tower which is across the street from his building. The fire seemed to have started on the fourth floor but quickly engulfed the entire complex.
The death toll is expected to be much higher as roughly 600 people lived in the apartment building.
“I just saw a lot of people trapped, a lot of people screaming, children screaming. I was unable to do anything but watch,” he said as bits of debris continued to fall from the building. “I heard women saying, ‘I’m on the 17 floor, I’m on the 15 floor.’ Screaming, shouting.”
Mr. Zahra has relatives who are still missing, the family of his wife’s second cousin. “The wife and five children, all under 10, are missing,” he said, adding that the father was at work driving a cab. “I can’t believe how much pain this guy is going through right now.”
Police and firefighters yelled at people to stay in their apartments, he added. “I thought that was strange. I believe they thought they could contain the fire at first. But I think that was the wrong move. I think because of that [advice] I’m sure you’ll see the death toll rise.”
He added shaking his head: “I’m unable to really contemplate it. It’s almost like it a bad dream. I lived 16 years here. It looks like it has been hit by a bomb.”
There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but angry residents said they had warned local authorities about fire issues at Grenfell Tower. The housing block, built in 1974, was recently upgraded at a cost of 8.6 million pounds ($11 million), with work finishing in May 2016, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Nadia Revira rushed out of her building too Tuesday night. She lives next door to the tower and heard the screams of people inside. “There were people screaming ‘Help me’. They were screaming for their life.” She watched people jump from 14 floors up, knowing they had no chance. Others just paced inside their apartments not sure what to do.
“The building was so much on fire they just couldn’t get out.  We’d see them pacing in and out, the windows were falling, debris was coming closer to us….It was like popcorn. Just bang, bang, bang,” she said.
She encouraged a few people who weren’t too high up to leap. “We were literally standing there saying to them ‘jump, please jump, just jump out the window’,” she said. But they didn’t. As she watched the smoke and flames fill up the apartments, the screaming stopped. “There was nothing we could do.” Her 7-year-old son is still looking for his friend, but she’s convinced he is dead.