WHATEVER about terrorism and all its political permutations, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower in London. It is almost two weeks since hundreds of people – women, men, children, toddlers, babies – went to bed in the 127 flats in the 24-storey tower to be awoken to an inferno hours later. Many of them have never been seen again. Nor will they. Smothered and charred to death by a raging fire that could have been avoided if their concerns were heeded.
Perhaps, if they had hailed from the other end of Kensington – the rich one – the pleas of the residents’ organisation, Grenfell Action Group, since 2013, would have been heard. But this was a complex that mainly housed the less well-off and it seems the cause of the rapid spread of the fire was cheap cladding added to the exterior in 2016. Add to this tragedy, the horrific fact that the residents were told to remain within their flats in the event of a fire.
Can you imagine how that felt as they were surrounded by smoke and billowing flames? Can you imagine the utter panic as parents woke their children? How did it feel for older people whose creaking limbs left them powerless to run or to even try to escape? This was the deadliest inferno in the UK for over 100 years. It took 24 hours for hundreds of firefighters and 45 engines to extinguish the fire, which dominated the London skyline.
WHY is it that the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable in our societies are the ones most abandoned by those in power? What is the flaw in our evolution that ensures unnecessary tragedies occur? Why are societies – particularly in the privileged western world – still so unjust? The Irish Times journalist, Patrick Smyth, wrote from London last week about how his relative, Joe, was still missing, presumed dead. But like other families, he clung on “forlornly”, “pointlessly” to the unlikely possibility that Joe lay unidentified in some hospital. Smyth’s nephew, Sam, had tried to persuade his father to leave their 16th-floor flat but Joe had dementia, was confused and refused to budge. His son only abandoned him when the acridity of the smoke made him feel faint. On his desperate descent he implored firemen to rescue his father but they were forced to retreat soon afterwards because of the intensity of the smoke.
Ironically, one elderly couple on the same floor had a miraculous escape two hours after Sam fled.
“They had kept the smoke out of their flat with wet towels under their door, as recommended in the official advice to residents, waiting for rescue that never came. But when the living room finally caught fire they fled, covered in blankets, stumbling over bodies through the pitch black stairwell,” Patrick Smyth writes.
Apparently, many of those who survived say it was only because they were up late as their Ramadan fast ended.
SOME time after the tower was built in 1974 residents began to highlight the many problems with the building and, in particular, during the 2016 refurbishment when the toxic and flammable cladding was installed. Isn’t it unconscionable that flame-resistant cladding would have cost a mere £5,000 more than that installed? No wonder the London Metropolitan Police have opened a criminal investigation into potential corporate manslaughter. But why didn’t the £10 million refurbishment include fire-breaks, sprinklers? Why did the central alarms not work?
Last week the families who escaped the tower blaze – at the time there were 79 dead and counting – were informed that they will be given permanent homes later in the summer in a luxury apartment complex on Kensington Row, near Grenfell.
Purchased by the corporation, they are the affordable quota for the complex. It includes a 24-hour concierge, swimming pool, sauna, spa and private cinema.
It will be interesting to see if the Grenfell residents are given access to these luxury facilities. Normally, affordable housing tenants are not. It is the very least they deserve but we all know it is too little too late. These survivors, injured or not, will be scarred for life from this trauma caused by negligent, careless, criminal cheap-skates.