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Life After the Horror





Danielle Aumord



Two months after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire we investigate what’s next for the tragic victims

Despite receiving international attention and £20million in donations, eight weeks on, many are still homeless and awaiting news of missing loved ones.



WITH her voice shaking, Mouna El-Ogbani recalls just a few of the horrific images ingrained in her mind ever since the night of June 14. “I remember walking past a young girl sitting silently on the pavement, her skin badly burned,” she says. “I still hear the screams of someone as they desperately jumped from a window. And I’ll never erase the memory of opening my front door to a wall of pitch-black smoke. It was like a horror film. But this wasn’t a movie, it was really happening.” Mouna, 42, is describing the dreadful events that shocked the globe when a fire ravaged Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of flats in west London. Along with her husband Youseff, a shift engineer, and their three children Zaid, 13, Hafsa, 10, and Nusabah, two, they managed to escape the burning building, but many others didn’t. So far the body count is at 87 – the latest official victim being named as toddler Jeremiah Deen, who was just two years old – with approximately 80 people still registered as missing. However, local residents insist that up to 600 people were living at Grenfell Tower at the time of the blaze. According to the Metropolitan Police, the fire started in a Hotpoint fridge freezer inside a fourth floor flat. Just two months before, London Fire Brigade had warned all 33 councils in the capital about the risks of highly flammable cladding on tower blocks – something that had been fitted to Grenfell Tower in May 2016 as part of a refurbishment. It took 200 firefighters more than 24 hours to extinguish the blaze, and in the days that followed, millions of pounds were raised for the survivors, many of whom have been left with nothing. But while our newsfeeds slowly moved on from that horrific night, what happened to those left behind? Many who have lived in the area and been friends since childhood are desperately hoping they can rebuild their broken community. “We’ve created Facebook and WhatsApp groups to keep in touch since we were evacuated,” explains Labour councillor Beinazir Lasharie, who goes by the name Beni. The three-bedroom flat she lived in with her children Liban, three, and Aaliyah, two, was in the block of flats attached to the base of the tower. “It sounds strange, but since the fire we’ve become even closer. We share the feelings of what we saw and heard that night, and together we remember our mutual friends who died in the fire.” While Beni, 37, has spent the days following the tragedy working with survivors to try to get them rehoused – despite needing a home herself – other residents from the estate are organising spa days for the displaced in a bid to temporarily relieve their anxieties. They’ve also put on a fun day for the kids in the community, complete with bouncy castles and barbecues. It’s also become clear that in the wake of such a tragedy, mental health is a key concern. So well-versed are they in the fallout of events like this that within hours of the fire being put out, NHS representatives were knocking on doors in the estate and at hotels where victims were staying to offer survivors and evacuees mental-health support. According to Dr Alastair Bailey, consultant clinical psychologist at Central And North West London NHS Foundation Trust, many will no doubt be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks where they may feel the fire is happening again, and feelings of being on edge,” he explains. “Some will require therapy to fully recover, which will focus on helping people process the painful memory of the traumatic event so that it does not come into their minds when they don’t want it to.” Mouna, who works at a centre for domestic violence victims, is currently on compassionate leave, and is grateful for the support provided by her employers. “So far I’ve had one clinical supervision session,” she says. “I think the counsellor had expected me to say I had clients in the tower, so was really shocked when I started talking about seeing people jump from the building first-hand and how their screams still ring in my ears. I can still vividly see someone trying to climb out of the 10th floor using sheets but the police telling them to wait and they would come to them. I still feel so frightened.” And it’s not just adults suffering. Many children saw things that night that they’ll never forget. “There were dead bodies in the walkway of the estate – people who’d thrown themselves out of the block – and we had to walk past them,” recalls Beni. “It was horrible. I didn’t want my kids ever to see anything like that.” Mouna’s daughter Hafsa also remembers the night clearly. “I was sleeping in my tracksuit when Mum woke me,” she recalls. “I slipped my sandals on and I saw my cardigan in my room so I thought it would be a good idea to grab it. I got my brother up and he left in just shorts and a T-shirt without his shoes. “Firefighters were pushing him down the stairs to get out as I lifted my cardigan to my face. I couldn’t hear the fire, just lots of shouting. Once we were out, I saw one of my neighbours screaming because she wanted to go back into the tower to get her dad. I know he ended up dying.” Thankfully for Hafsa and the many other children affected by the fire, local schools have been equipped to offer much-needed support to youngsters as they try to digest the horrific scenes from that night. “Hafsa’s primary school has been especially supportive,” explains Mouna. “It’s been fund-raising for the victims who have been left with nothing and doing trauma work with those affected. They’ve even organised theatre trips for them.” According to experts, getting rehoused will also be a big step in their recovery for families. However, eight weeks on, many of the evacuees remain scattered in hotels, hostels and care homes, despite government promises to rehouse survivors within three weeks. Labour MP David Lammy has even alleged some faced being moved away as far as Lancashire. The claim was refuted by both the Royal Borough of Kensington And Chelsea and the Grenfell Tower Response Team. But the reality is still shocking. So far, only 12 households have actually been rehomed. According to the Response Team, 169 offers of housing have been made, and of those 46 have been accepted. However, they insist that it’s expected to be a lengthy process. “It will take a long time for offers to be accepted because of the highly emotional state of those we need to house,” explained a spokesperson. It’s something Mouna is familiar with. While she and her family are currently staying at a hotel in Earl’s Court, they’ve so far had two viewings of potential new homes, both more than a mile away from where they lived. “One was in a very a rough area, while the other stunk of damp,” she says. “I was far too concerned for my children’s health and safety to accept them. Plus, I don’t want them to have to change schools. We are a close community and we want to stay together. “Since the fire, we’ve completely lost our dignity,” Mouna adds. “We’ve had to rely on donations from all sorts of different centres for clothing, toys, food and even money just to get by. Sometimes the council and the Response Team asked what we’re spending it on. It’s exhausting. My flat is destroyed and everything is burned. There’s not even one photo left. People need to realise that while the world has moved on, we haven’t. We still have nothing.” And she’s not the only one. As the manager of a donation centre near the tower, Hanan Miezou is still filling out forms outlining exactly what survivors need. And despite such a huge amount of money being raised, she admits she’s struggling to provide survivors with what they’re requesting. She has even started her own Go Fund Me page to try to raise more money. “We haven’t seen much of the money donated to charities go directly to survivors,” Hanan says. “The truth is, we don’t know what’s happened with all of that money.” For some residents, life can only get bleaker as they wait for news of missing loved ones, which is painstakingly slow. “I know some people who have already collected the bodies of their family members, and even someone who collected the remains of their dog,” says Hanan. “Within one flat of a family I know on the 22nd floor, 11 bodies were found – a family of six plus a family of five from another flat who must have come over so they could comfort each other. Some survivors have been told by authorities that the bodies are difficult to identify as the ashes melted together.” Over the weeks, Hanan has managed to scrape together a contact list of survivors. Shockingly, there are only 80 families on it – which totals 256 people – despite the tower having 120 flats. And there’s still no list publicly available of registered tenants from the tower, nor of people visiting residents or those sub-letting flats from social-housing tenants. While the coroner has formally identified 45 victims, according to commander Stuart Cundy, who’s overseeing the Met’s response to the fire, the research and recovery operation will not be complete until the end of 2017. “We have recovered the last visible human remains,” he explains. “Tragically there are still 23 flats where we’ve been unable to trace or speak to anyone in those properties on the night.” On July 27, Scotland Yard confirmed there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the Royal Borough of Kensington And Chelsea and its Tenant Management Organisation committed corporate manslaughter, and notified the council that they may be charged. “We want the people responsible to be arrested and investigated thoroughly,” says Mouna. “We need an inquest, not an inquiry. We want real answers. I feel so angry and upset about it all.” Talking about the refurb work on Grenfell before the fire, Mouna adds solemnly: “The council had a job to do within a certain time. They did it in the cheapest way and people have died. What more do they need before something is done?”
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