Grenfell survivor: I told everyone on my floor to get out, but I wish I had done more



Fatima Alves took a sealed plastic bag from the box labelled Flat 105 and carefully decanted it on to the table. Her husband and children looked on as blackened gold necklaces, melted clumps of jewellery and misshapen copper coins tumbled out. “See this?” she said, picking up a delicate gold band. “It’s the ring Miguel bought me when we started dating 31 years ago.”

The boxes, just six of them, held everything that was saved from their burned-out flat on the 13th floor of Grenfell Tower. It was the first time the Alves family had laid eyes on the possessions they thought had been consumed in the 1,000C inferno that ripped through their home and community one year ago tomorrow. 

“These boxes were sent to us 10 days ago but I haven’t had the strength to open them until now,” said Fatima. The packages arrived from Kenyon Funeral Directors who were in charge of storing and sending survivors possessions.

Fatima’s son Tiago, 21, who is studying physics at King’s College, held up a burnt-out metal casing and strap — his watch. A second box yielded his favourite mug. It was an intimate moment watching this family being pulled back to the dreadful night of the fire through their charred possessions.

Tiago with his father Miguel, who helped to save everyone on the 13th floor where the family lived (Lucy Young)

“We did not think we would get anything back,” said Tiago. “But it’s bittersweet because this is what is left of everything we accumulated since my parents came from Portugal to live in London 25 years ago — and we can fit it all on our dining table.”

In the days after the blaze, the Alves family came to epitomise the resilience of the survivors when their daughter Inês, 17, found the strength to sit her chemistry GCSE just hours after the fire — achieving an A grade. 

Miguel, 50, a chauffeur, and Fatima, 48, a housekeeper, are proud of their high-achieving children and they have been upwardly mobile, too, buying their Grenfell flat under right-to-buy over 15 years ago. Now, after a litany of broken promises to house them by the Government and Kensington and Chelsea council, they are due to end a year of living in temporary accommodation with a move to their own place on the Lancaster West estate next month. 

Victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

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Final death toll: Just some of the victims who were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze

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Final death toll: Just some of the victims who were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze

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Five-year-old Isaac Paulos

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Logan Gomes, who was stillborn after his family escaped from the 21st floor of the Grenfell Tower

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Victoria King, 71, and her 40-year-old daughter Alexandra Atala were among those who died in the blaze

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A photograph of Mohamed Amied Neda as his family were forced to hold a second funeral

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Mary Mendy

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Maria Del Pilar Burton, who was rescued from the 19th floor of Grenfell Tower, has died seven months on from the blaze

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Alexandra Atala, 40, the last victim to be named and pictured from the Grenfell fire

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Gloria Trevisan and Marco Gottardi

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Rania Ibrahim, Fethia Hassan and Hania Hassan

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Raymond Bernard

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Bassem Choucair and Nadia Choucair

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Sirria Choucair

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Mierna Choucair

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Fatima Choucair died along with five other relatives

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Mariem Elgwahry

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Hashim Kedir, wife Nura and children Yahya, 13, left, Firdaws, 11, and Yaqub, six.

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Mehdi El-Wahabi, 8, lived on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower

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Ligaya Moore, 79, a Filipino living in the tower

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Artist Khadija Saye

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Victim: 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez was killed in the fire

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Victim: Farah Hamdan, 31, pictured with her baby daughter

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Mohamednur Tuccu, 44, and his three-year-old daughter Amaya Tuccu-Ahmedin

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Berkti Haftom, 29 and Biruk Haftom, 12

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Victim: Sakina Afrasehabi, 65, died in the Grenfell Tower fire

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Fatima Afraseiabi

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‘Well respected’: Grandmother-of-six Sheila Smith was killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze

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Hamid Kani was found on the 23rd floor

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Steve Power

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Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

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Denis Murphy

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Young victim: Jeremiah Deen, two, died in the blaze

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Zainab Deen

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Anthony Disson

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Ali Yawar Jafari

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Nora Huda

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Kedir Hashim: His wife and their three children died

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Hesham Rahman

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Gary Maunders

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Ernie Vital and his mother Marjorie

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Amal Ahmedin and Amaya

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Amna Mahmud Idris

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Kamru Miah, 79, who died in the Grenfell Tower fire

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Rabeya Begum

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Mohammed Hamid, 27, died in the fire

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Mohammed Hanif

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Husna Begum

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Fathia Ali Ahmed Elsanosi

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Vincent Chiejina

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Abdulaziz El-Wahabi

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Faouzia El-Wahabi, 41

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Yasin El-Wahabi, 20

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Nur Huda El-Wahabi, 16,

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Mehdi El-Wahabi, 8, lived on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower

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Khadija Khaloufi

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Omar Belkadi, 32, and Farah Hamdan, 31

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Deborah Lamprell

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Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

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Miguel hopes that getting past this “difficult one-year anniversary moment” and the move will start a new chapter in their lives, but the truth is that the events of the early hours of June 14 last year still haunt him. 

The couple had been out with friends and had returned to Grenfell Tower shortly before 1am. As they pushed the lift button for the 13th floor, another resident dashed in and, as fortune would have it, exited on the fourth floor where the fire had broken out minutes before. Miguel saw smoke in the lobby and sprang into action. He told Fatima to head back down and ran up the stairs to wake his children. 

As Fatima came out of the building, two fire engines were pulling up. “My husband and children are up there,” she told a fireman. “Tell them to stay where they are and close windows and doors,” he told her. Fatima buzzed up to tell her husband to “stay put”. But Miguel, who knew how rapidly wildfires spread in Portugal, did not believe in a “stay put” policy and was already banging on the doors of his neighbours. 

Inês Alves and her mother Fatima try to identify pieces of jewellery sent back to them from their burnt-out flat. (Lucy Young)

He helped save the lives of everyone on the 13th floor by waking them up and telling them to “get out now”. But he is haunted by the thought he could have done more. “There was a 20-minute window where, if I had known what we know now, I could have woken one person on each floor and they could have woken their neighbours and we could have saved 99 per cent of the 72 people who died.” 

The Alves family evacuated to a friend’s flat that overlooked the tower where they watched from the balcony as the flames leapt higher. When Miguel saw the blaze getting out of control, he told Fatima: “I’m going back up.” Fatima looked at him and said: “You are not going anywhere.” 

At around 1.20am Miguel called his friend Marcio Gomes, who lived with his wife Andreia and two daughters on the 21st floor. He pleaded with them to leave, but the fire brigade had told them to stay put, not least because Andreia was heavily pregnant. 

Notting Hill Grenfell Tower Fire – In pictures

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A blaze rages through Grenfell Tower block in Notting Hill

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Aerial view of the fire at Grenfell Tower, Notting Hill

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Aerial view of the fire at Grenfell Tower, Notting Hill

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A firefighter investigates a floor after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower

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Exhausted firefighter rest on steps of houses after ours of tackling the blaze

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Residents wave frantically at a window during the blaze

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Emergency personnel operate during the fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 27-storey apartment block in North Kensington, London

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A police officer helps to evacuate a local resident from close to the scene of a serious fire in a tower block at Latimer Road in West London

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Debris and ash surrounding Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate, Latimer road

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A fleet of ambulances at the scene ready to deal with the injured

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A firefighter rests during the battle against the blaze at Grenfell Tower

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Firefighters prepare to enter the building to tackle the flames

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Smoke billows from a fire that has engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London

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Flames engulf the tower block in Notting Hill

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This shocking image shows flames engulfing the 27 storey tower

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Police and Emergency services at the scene of a major fire in Notting Hill after a block of flats Grenfell Tower is engulfed in flames

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A person peers out of a window from the building on fire in London

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Firefighters react as a huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower

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Smoke rises from the fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey apartment block in North Kensington, London

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Smoke billows across the London skyline follwing a fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate

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Aw omen react followign the blaze at Grenfell Tower

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Smoke billows across the London skyline follwing a fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate

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A water jet douses the fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey apartment block seen through a fence in North Kensington

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Young children wear protective face masks near the burning 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London

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Two men hug within the security cordon as Grenfell Tower is engulfed by fire

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A man (circled) looks from a window as smoke pours from a fire that has engulfed the 27-storey Grenfell Tower

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Smoke billows across the London skyline follwing a fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate

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Firefighters on the scene at Grenfell Tower on Latimer Road early this morning

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A view of debris from the Grenfell Tower fire covering a football pitch

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Aerial view of the closed of Westway follwing a the fire at Grenfell Tower in the West Lancaster estate, Latimer Road.

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Fire fighters tackle the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 story Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London

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A local resident is carried to receive some medical aid at a community centre close to a fire that has engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower

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The Alves family watched in horror as fire engulfed the tower. “I saw the flames reach our floor,” said Fatima, her eyes brimming. “I saw people on the higher floors shouting and begging for help. A lady was screaming ‘help me, help me’, over and over. People were waving sheets and shouting, ‘we’re here, help us’. I saw people in windows, the fire behind them, and I watched as they just disappeared. I was trembling and begging God to help.”

Miguel phoned the Gomes family again at around 2.30am and screamed: “Leave now! You have no chance if you stay!” At 3am, Fatima tried them one last time but this time nobody answered. “At that moment, we knew they had left the flat and were somewhere in the smoke-filled stairwell,” said Fatima. “Later that day we heard they were in hospital for smoke inhalation. They survived but their unborn baby died.” 

Other items collected from their burnt-out flat included coins, and the remains of a watch belonging to Tiago (Lucy Young)

The Alves family are still plagued by terrible memories and nightmares. Fatima said: “I have this dream where I am in my father’s house and everything is burning and I can’t get out.” Inês, who is doing A-levels, said: “My outlook has changed. I find it harder to concentrate. When I battle to understand something, I give up more easily because I think, it could all be over tomorrow, so why struggle. But leaked emails showing how the council see us as ‘stupid and uneducated’ makes me determined to prove them wrong and get into a good university.”

Tiago sees counsellors every day. “I have put on 25kg from all the stress and have found keeping up with my studies and the public inquiry and managing my feelings of helplessness very tough,” he said. “I got involved in the survivor group Grenfell United, which has been very empowering, but I have had to take my university course part time because it has all been too much for me,” he said.

As his children talked, Miguel slumped forward and wept. “The hardest thing is to see your children struggle,” he said. Tiago kissed him on the head. “We will get there, dad,” he said. 

Two months ago, Fatima was allowed to return to their flat. She was given a forensics-style boiler suit and a mask and was accompanied by four police officers, two paramedics and two NHS psychiatrists. “As we climbed higher into the tower and the walls got blacker, I was overcome by thoughts of the unimaginable terror of the people who died on that stairwell and I felt I was going to pass out. Eventually we got to our flat. All the internal walls were gone. It was just one big charred room.” 

A week later Miguel and Tiago made a similar pilgrimage, but Inês was refused access for health and safety reasons because she is under 18.

“It makes me so angry. I left that flat with nothing but my mobile phone and my chemistry revision notes. Now I want to go back up and look out on that incredible view one last time. One year on, I need to face up to what it looks like now. It would help me. Like my family, I want to turn the page. I want to begin to have closure.”



Source : https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/grenfell-survivor-i-told-everyone-on-my-floor-to-get-out-but-i-wish-i-had-done-more-a3861901.html

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