Late Wednesday in North Kensington, West London a series of events occurred dramatically altering the lives of Grenfell Tower residents. At approximately 12:54 a.m. a fire, apparently caused by a faulty mini-fridge, began as an isolated incident on the 4th floor, but quickly swept around the tower, engulfing the entire building. Witnesses as far as two streets over reported observing residents using bedsheets as makeshift rope ladders to escape being submerged into the intense flames, while holding wet cloths over their mouths to decrease the number of toxic fumes inhaled. Many individuals were reported missing around this time, due to the hysterical state of individuals in search of safety.
One resident, Ines Alves, 16, was revising her notes for a Chemistry GCSE exam that same morning when her father, Miguel, noticed smoke spreading from the 4th floor and warned Ines and her brother to quickly evacuate. “I put on my jeans and a top and just grabbed my phone and chemistry notes”, she recalls. “I was trying to revise while we waited downstairs, as we thought it was a small fire at first, but it was impossible.” However, not everyone was so fortunate, Mohammed Alhajali, 23, and Khadija Saye, 24 were the first victims identified among the debris, various sources claim. Mohammed allegedly phoned a friend to say “goodbye” shortly before he died.
Reports of causalities range from a disheartening “unknown” to 30+ currently, but the death toll is expected to rise considerably in the next few days, as many residents are considered missing persons. Numerous people have already been identified and posted on social media by friends and family, distraught and pleading for the safe return of their loved ones. Among a few of the missing are Gloria Trevisan, Marco Gottardi, Lucas James (12), Issac Shawo (5), Mariem Elgwahry, Yasin el-Wahabi (21), Nurhuda el-Wahabi (15) Mehdi el-Wahabi (8), Issac Paulos (2), Sheila Smith (84), Mary Mendy (mother of Khadija Saye), Zainab Dean, Jessica Urbano (12), Ali Yawar Jafari (82), Hamid Kanu (61), Saber Neda (57), Nura Jamal, Hashim Kidir, Firdaws Kidir II (11), Yahya Kidir (13), Yaqub Kidir, (6), Nadia Choucair, and Mo Tuccu.
The main question seems to be, what caused this horrific tragedy? But, the answer is one both obvious and distasteful, an ineffective government and disregard for POC lives. The tragic incident that unraveled Wednesday night is, unfortunately, a common case, government officials blatantly ignore the concerns and living conditions of POC and their families in public housing, construct the buildings with barely sufficient materials, and refuse to revamp buildings to meet current codes and regulations.
This situation is sadly one of many in a long list of injustices against POC. A vicious cycle, catastrophe ensues, usually resulting in casualties, and uproar in the POC community for immediate government involvement. David Lammy, a London labor lawmaker, and friend of Khadija Saye described the fire as, “corporate manslaughter” and “..totally unacceptable for this to happen….particularly in our richest borough.” via Twitter on June 15th. (Update: a criminal investigation has been launched) Fire-fighters assessing the damages identified many violations and fire hazards within the tower, such as communal staircases, no ventilation in lift lobbies, and defective smoke detectors. Matthew Needham-Laing, architect, and engineering lawyer verified these claims, stating the dark smoke engulfing the tower signified its decaying structure. “It looks to me like a cladding fire….flame retardant, so it doesn’t catch fire as easily, but the temperatures you’re talking about are often 900,1,000 degrees centigrade, and in those conditions, any material will generally burn.” These repairs would’ve only cost the council £5,000. ($6,392)
Officials, however, spin a different tale. They claim the building, originally constructed in 1974, was refurbished last year by developers, Rydon, for £10.3 million ($13.2 million); the company released a statement Thursday claiming their refurbishment met “all required building control, fire regulation, and health and safety standards.” While reconstruction is generally the most effective solution to creating safer, stable housing, I strongly believe government officials continued to ignore any upgrades required to ensure the safety of residents, such as installing properly working fire alarms, and instead, solely focused on superficial enhancements of the building in an attempt to silence the concerns of residents who continuously contacted Council about necessary improvements. Resident’s statements seem to agree, they raised concerns about the building’s safety months before the fire, after 16 residents required immediate hospitalization for smoke inhalation at another nearby council-owned property, Adair Tower in October 2015.
Local communities surrounding Grenfell Tower are now coming together to provide assistance and support to those who are now homeless by donating food and supplies to the local council. (Update: The council recently released a statement of inadequate space to receive any more donations, due to the high volume of incoming donations) Dozens of housing options are also being offered to survivors, including hotels and apartments. A local resident, Rrita, showed their condolences and support of volunteers in this instagram picture, captioning, “lftar laid out for volunteers, by volunteers #grenfelltower”. Muslim community members broke their Ramadan fast in support and memory of the victims and missing persons in Wednesday’s fire, “The best thing about today”, Zain Miah, a charity worker, told CNN, “It doesn’t matter what skin color we have, doesn’t matter where we’re from….Everyone is here to make sure the people who are affected, and who need help most, have got that help.”
With reports being continuously updated about this ongoing case member of Modest Truth Magazine stand in solidarity with Grenfell Tower victims and survivors and wish for a safe return for all families affected by this tragedy.