Syrian Refugee Identified as First Victim in London Tower Fire as Toll Set to Rise


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Syrian Refugee Identified as First Victim in London Tower Fire as Toll Set to Rise

London

A Syrian refugee has been named as the first victim of the towerblock inferno in London as officials expected the death toll in the tragedy to rise dramatically.

Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali has been identified on Friday as a victim in the fire. His brother Omar broke down in tears as he told how Mohammed got trapped in the burning block as they both tried to flee their 14th floor home.

Scores of people are feared dead after the massive blaze tore through the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in West London just after midnight on Wednesday.

London police said there is nothing to suggest that fire was started deliberately.

Omar, who initially thought his brother had escaped, spoke to Mohammed by phone from outside the block as he watched it engulfed in flames and thick black smoke.

“He said: ‘Why (have) you left me…?’ He said: “I’m dying. I cannot breathe,” Omar told the BBC.

“We came from Syria to be safe here, and now we’re dying.”

Mohammed, reported to be 23, came to Britain in 2014 and was studying engineering in London.
The Syria Solidarity Campaign said Mohammed had tried to call his family in Syria during the fire but could not get connected. He had not seen his family for four years.

“When the fire reached his flat … Mohammed bid his friend and brothers goodbye, saying that the fire had reached him. He asked them to pass on the message to his family in Syria,” the charity said in a statement.

“Mohammed undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK, in his own home.”

The charity said Mohammed had dreamed that he would one day be able to go back and help rebuild Syria. It called for a “thorough investigation” into building regulations, adding: “Mohammed came to this country for safety and the UK failed to protect him.”

Up to 600 people lived in the social housing block in more than 120 apartments. The official death toll stood at 30 on Friday but is expected to soar. Firefighters say they do not expect to find more survivors.

Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy responded to speculation that the number of dead could exceed 100, saying: “From a personal perspective, I really hope it isn’t.”

“The investigation will look in into what criminal offenses may have been committed,” he added.

Firefighters searching the smoldering ruin in west London have recovered six bodies from the tower, while 11 others have been located but cannot yet be removed from the gutted structure.

Families searching for their loved ones have blanketed the area near the tower with posters searching for answers, and sorrow is quickly turning to anger over whether recent building works were properly done.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William had arrived at a London site where community groups have gathered supplies for those affected by the tower fire disaster.

The queen is meeting with volunteers Friday and she has expressed her sympathies to families of victims. More than 1 million pounds ($1.27 million) has been raised to help victims of the fire

British Prime Minister Theresa May visited on Friday those injured in the fire after facing fierce criticism for attending the site but not meeting with residents.

She visited Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, which is treating eight people. Three are in critical condition.

May pledged on Thursday to hold a public inquiry into a fire that engulfed the building, but she has been widely attacked for not meeting with residents, sending ministers to do so instead.

The tower is in the North Kensington neighborhood, a working-class, multi-ethnic area next to some of the richest neighborhoods in Britain. Some observers asked whether hazards in the Grenfell complex were ignored because its residents are mainly poor.

A tenant group had complained for years about the risk of a fire in the building, owned by the local government in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Fire safety engineers were stunned at how rapidly the fire spread, engulfing the building in less than an hour in the middle of the night and preventing firefighters from reaching many people inside.

Authorities have refused to speculate on what could have started the blaze. But the focus has turned to renovations completed last year that added decorative touches to the building.

The project included installing insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system.

Britain’s government has ordered checks at towers going through similar renovations, and some London neighborhood authorities said Thursday they’d do extra fire-safety assessments at public housing high-rises.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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