London, United Kingdom, Jun 14 – People watched in horror as neighbours found themselves trapped or in desperation leapt to their doom as flames raced through the stricken Grenfell Tower.
The last time Hanan Wahabi saw her brother was when he and his family waved to her from their home in an upper floor after she had safely left the blazing building.
Wahabi, 39, who lives on the ninth floor of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, said she was awoken by smoke at around 1:00am on Wednesday.
“I could see there was ash coming through the window in the living room, which was partially open,” she told AFP, sitting outside a local community centre.
“I looked out and I could see the fire travelling up the block. It was literally by my window,” she said. “I slammed the window shut and got out.”
After she escaped along with her husband and son, 16, and daughter, eight, she called her brother, who lives on the 21st floor, to see if he was all right.
“The fire hadn’t reached the top of the block at that point,” Wahabi said.
“He said he had been told to stay inside, stay in one room together and put towels under the door. I told him to leave. He said he was going to come. Then I called him and he said there was too much smoke.
“The last time I saw him they were waving out the window, his wife and children. The last time I spoke to his wife, he was on the phone to the fire brigade. I’ve not heard from them since, the phone is not going through, the landline isn’t going through. That was about 2:00am.”
– ‘Saw people jumping out’ –
Two eyewitnesses told the Press Association news agency they saw children dropped by their parents into the arms of people on the ground.
One said a baby was dropped from the ninth or 10th floor, another that she saw a five-year-old boy dropped from a fifth or sixth floor window.
Khadejah Miller, who was evacuated from her home nearby, recounted a night of horor.
“I literally just heard screaming, I saw people jumping out of their windows, the building was literally on fire, the ambulances, the police. It was horrendous,” she said.
Amanda Fernandez, 31, was evacuated from a different part of the housing estate.
“When you live around here, you know people. And to stand helpless watching the fire and counting the floors, and thinking, ‘Who lives on that floor? Who lives on that one?’ Most of the people I know lived higher than the 10th floor.”
Others reported seeing mobile phone lights and white cloths, and hearing screams for help from the windows, as the flame rose through the building at astonishing speed.
– ‘I’m a goner’ –
Another survivor at the community centre, wearing shorts, a T-shirts and trainers and with a blanket draped around his shoulders, said he saved his own life with just moments to spare.
“My neighbour’s smoke alarm went off and I thought he might have done some cooking,” he said, giving only his first name of Eddie, 55.
“I was in bed and I heard people shout fire, fire, I opened my door and loads of smoke came in. Then two seconds later my neighbour (on fifth floor) called and said, ‘Get the fuck out the building’!”
“I went into the bathroom and I got the towel and wet it and wrapped it around my head. I run out into the hallway, close the door behind me and ran for where I thought the fire exit was. I didn’t find it. It was a matter of life and death — I thought, ‘If I’m in this for another five seconds, I’m a goner’.”
“Then on the ground there was a fireman, he touched my leg and pulled me into where the fire stairwell was. You couldn’t see anything. I just ran down the stairs. There wasn’t that many people on the stairs.
“Loads of people haven’t got out of the building.”
– ‘Saw them dying’ –
Some evacuated residents found refuge in nearby St Clement’s Church and sat dazed on the pews as volunteers handed out food and drink.
Clarita Ghavimi, 66, said she escaped with a tea towel over her mouth and was helped down by two men.
“I was shaking and crying,” she said, still clutching the tea towel in her sooty hands.
Adi Estu, 32, who was in her pyjamas and a coat, said: “I saw people flashing their lights for help, families flashing their mobile phones like a torch. But the smoke covered them and then the fire destroyed everything”.
“We saw them dying. How can you forget that?”