Residents talk about their community and the events that unfolded on the 21st floor of Grenfell tower. It's a powerful and at times disturbing account.
Browse content similar to Grenfell Tower: The 21st Floor. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This programme contains some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting
It was lovely. I loved living there.
Everyone was nice.
It was our house. It was our home.
It was a very special building, Grenfell Tower. Very special.
They were trying to say that it was a very poor tower,
a broken tower, if you like, but it was far from that.
It's a community where everyone knows each other.
My room is on fire, just like that.
All my curtains were on fire, my Moses basket was on fire.
All that side of the window was all on fire.
So, we were just trying to run.
We were just... You know, just scurrying, just keep on going,
just keep on going.
Thick air going into you is really strong, so everyone...
I can hear everyone, like, trying to find air.
I just can't believe that they're gone.
They're just gone, just like that.
So many stories have emerged from Grenfell,
but this is the story of one of the top floors, the 21st.
15 people living as close neighbours
in six flats around a central hallway.
Amongst them, an NHS porter,
a management consultant,
an IT manager and a beautician.
You'd meet all sorts of different people.
You've got English friends, Irish friends...
Erm, Arabic friends, Muslim backgrounds and Portuguese.
We have a few families Portuguese there. Spanish, Italians, erm...
Yeah, diversity in the tower was really good.
And you get to see all these different cultures.
It's been painted as a very...
A very kind of poverty-stricken building,
and maybe parts of it were,
but that's certainly not the impression that we had
when viewing it.
The flat itself, it was just beautiful.
The landlord had done it up very nicely.
It was very tasteful, very modern.
And because it was quite high up, on the 21st floor,
-it had amazing views all around it.
-Really nice views.
It's my home.
I know a lot of people there, my neighbours, you know?
And everyone there, you know...
When you live somewhere 20 years, it's your home, you know?
Helen Gebremeskel runs a beauty salon in West London.
Originally from Eritrea,
though she'd lived in the tower for 20 years,
for the past three, Helen and her daughter Lulya rented
the two-bedroom council flat, number 186,
on the 21st floor.
My house was amazing.
I did everything in the house. Everything.
The floor, the painting,
We had a purple carpet and purple pillows,
but the house was all white, so that was the only thing that stood out.
All the neighbours around us - it's a six-flat -
people are nice. People are really nice and we get along very well.
But on June 14th, around 1am,
the fire started on the fourth floor of tower.
-Listen to him! Listen to him!
Within minutes, it rapidly spread.
When I woke up, I was just looking around and I can smell smoke,
you know? And I was going to myself, "Well, what is going on?"
In the window, there was a fire. I saw the fire coming, so I just run.
She grabbed me and she told me to get the dog,
so I got the dog and ran out.
We tried to take the stairs.
I went to the corridor and I can see people, you know,
my neighbours, coming...
And it was just confusing.
People were telling us to go back up
because the firefighters told them to go back up,
-like, to go to the top.
-And we couldn't get out because
they told us, "Go back, go back to your flat. Go back to your flat."
The 21st floor neighbours that Helen
and Lulya met trying to escape lived at number 182.
A Moroccan family of five, the El Wahabi's had been
renting their home from the council for 20 years.
That flat was their home.
It was actually like they took the place from Morocco
and it was in the flat and I was, like, amazed.
Chris's brother-in-law Abdulaziz came to the UK as a child.
He worked in the hospital, and he was a porter,
and he was much-loved by the people that he worked with.
He carried over that sense of humour, which was contagious.
It was the sort of job that you do...
Someone's got to go into the operating theatre, someone's
got to be shown to X-ray, someone's got to collect medicines...
It's a very important job, you just don't get well paid for it.
Abdulaziz and his wife Fouzia's eldest son Yasin was 20.
Described as a grafter like his dad, he was studying accountancy
while working part-time on an uncle's Moroccan rug stall
and as football referee.
His 15-year-old sister Nur Huda had just done her GSCEs.
Relatives told us the parents were so proud of their three children,
flat 182 was full of photos of them through the years.
The family were part of the close-knit
community on the 21st floor.
Neighbours recall Fouzia El Wahabi's generosity.
I remember, Christmas,
she came to knock on our door
with this huge chicken.
I said, "Oh, er..."
"Oh, this if for you cos it's Christmas
"and, you know, it's a welcome..."
Lovely, lovely family.
Their youngest one, he used to come
and knock our door every single Sunday to play with our youngest.
He used to come to me and say, "Megan's dad, Megan's dad,
-"can Megan go and play?"
-He never used to call my by my name.
He would always... "Megan's dad, Megan's dad."
Whoa, look. The fire's spreading up.
On the night of the fire,
having tried to make it downstairs at the same time
as Helen and Lulya, Abdulaziz El Wahabi
and his family returned to their flat and called 999.
He did leave the flat, but he went back into the flat
when he was told to go back into the flat,
so he followed the instructions.
Marcia and Andreia Gomes lived next door in flat 183
with their daughters Megan and Luana.
An IT manager and a clothes shop supervisor who was heavily
pregnant when the fire broke out,
they'd been renting their flat from the council for ten years.
When you went into the tower, it was your home.
You wouldn't know that you were in a tower.
Unless you looked out the window, you wouldn't know.
A lot of our friends said, "Oh, I can't believe it's like this."
I said, "Yeah, it's amazing. It's really nice."
The view was amazing.
It was in this flat, number 183, that Helen and Lulya
took refuge on the night of the fire.
Our neighbour knocked on our door and that's what woke us up.
As soon as we opened the door, smoke came flying in, straight away.
So, I said them, I said, "Look, come in. Go to the girls'..."
Because they stay in... We've always stayed in each others' flats.
So, I said, "Go to the girls' room, be with the girls,"
cos she was panicking a little bit.
And then I closed the door
behind to try and stop the smoke coming in,
but it was already thick, black smoke.
So, I said to her, "OK, phone 999."
I ended up speaking to the Fire Services
and they were saying, "Stay put,
"we're already aware of this."
The normal thing that you'd get.
Then we started getting phone calls from friends and family,
basically saying, "You need to get out.
"There's a fire in the building."
I said, "I can't, there's too much smoke.
"And as you know, my wife's pregnant."
He said, "I know, but you need to try."
So, we did try, the first time, but it was just too much.
At one point, I think I asked one of my friends,
"Can we speak to the fire people or the police?" You know?
And she let me talk to them
and we asked them, "What shall we do?"
And they said to us, "No, someone's going to come and take you out."
That's what they said to us, from two, three o'clock,
so that's why we've been waiting and waiting and waiting.
And then we call again and we ask them, and they say to us,
"No, stay in. Don't come out. Don't come out."
All of a sudden, everybody, you know, "Stay low as possible".
All our windows were open to try and get rid of the smoke.
At that time, obviously I knew it was quite bad,
so I filled the bathtub with water,
and then I left the shower on as well
because I wanted to try and get some particles into the air
to make it a little bit easier...to breathe.
At around 3.30am, the flames reached flat 183.
My room is on fire, just like that.
All my curtains were on fire. My Moses basket was on fire.
All that side of the window was all on fire.
So, the only thing I could do at the moment was, literally,
I grabbed the door, cos it's a fire door, I shut the door,
and then I looked at them and I said, "We have to go now.
"There's no turning back.
"We have to try and, you know, it's now or never."
The fire had reached Marcio and Andreia's bedroom,
but what of their other neighbours?
At around the time Helen had first woken up,
the man in number 184 told us he'd got a call about the fire
and left the one-bed flat he'd lived in for 27 years.
Mustafa Sirag Abdu, a civil engineer from Eritrea,
didn't want to take part in this film.
Across the corridor, Helen had seen the El Wahabis
go back into their flat, 182, at around 1.30am.
We now know the fire was spreading round the building.
In a call to emergency services around that time,
we understand the El Wahabis were advised to stay in the flat.
Later, relatives told us, in another 999 call
at perhaps 2am, the family were told
to move into this bedroom and put towels under the door.
I met Chris Jones on the morning of the fire,
as he waited for news of his wife's family.
He told me of the earlier, desperate phone calls as the fire raged.
And he just said, "Look, there's a lot of smoke in there,
"we're not leaving." That's what he said. And afterwards, that was it.
We phoned back, the phone just kept ringing.
No-one answered the phone.
Across the hallway from Chris's relatives,
new tenants had moved into flat 185 just 11 days earlier.
One of 12 Grenfell properties that were privately owned,
this flat rented for more than £400 a week.
By lucky coincidence, that evening, Lee's birthday,
he and Julian were staying in a hotel.
They got a call from their landlord about 3.30am,
around the time the Gomes's flat caught fire.
And he said, "The building's on fire, Grenfell Tower's on fire."
So, I just said, "That's...
"I'm really sorry to hear that, but we're here, it's OK. Is it bad?"
And he was... He was like, "It's the whole thing. It's everything."
He caught wind then of what I was talking about
and started looking things up on the news,
and I just saw from across the room his face just drop.
My heart sank and I couldn't say anything.
I just showed Lee the footage of what was going on.
It took until the next day really for me to kind of think,
"OK, no, no. This will have been a..."
-Lives will have been lost.
-"People will have died in this."
At first, you think that people will be able to get out.
There was so many families,
so many children living there.
But you just have this hazy memory of who you've seen...
..and knowing that not all of them will be OK is...
The neighbour nobody appears to have seen that night
lived in flat 181.
Ligaya Moore was retired.
She'd moved from the Philippines 45 years earlier
and had worked as a nanny and a waitress.
She'd been there for many, many years. She was lovely.
-Always played with the kids.
-You know, for...
I think she was 80-something years old
-and she used to use the stairs, you know?
-Yeah, as her exercise.
As her exercise, which was amazing.
From the 21st floor down to the ground, that's a lot of steps.
Did she like the tower?
Oh, yes, yes. She loved it
because it's lovely,
because it's a posh building.
She has a double door,
she saw all the views
because she has a very big mirror...
Windows. You can see everything.
She loved it. She enjoyed it, being alone,
sightseeing, seeing the beautiful view,
the London Eye, everything.
Nenita was the last person to see Ligaya alive.
She said goodbye to her that night at around 10.30pm.
Less than three hours later, Grenfell was ablaze.
I cannot contact her.
Keep on ringing until it's just shut down, the phone.
And that morning, I searched for her.
So many Grenfell residents didn't make it out, but incredibly,
with the building looking like this, and their flat now on fire,
those six people sheltering in flat 183,
the Gomes family with Helen and her daughter,
tried to leave the 21st floor.
He said to me, "Helen, we need to go now, we need to go now,
"or we're going to die. We have to make a move.
"No turning back, we need to get out."
So, before we left I got those tea towels,
wrapped it round everybody's face,
tied it round the back, and
then got the big sheets and the big towels
and put them over everybody cos I didn't know
if there was going to be any fire or anything like that.
So, it was literally, once we were lined up, I opened the door,
Helen... You know, everybody, did exactly
what they were supposed to do.
They all went...
Hit the door into the stairwell, grabbed the rail,
and then started following it down.
I had my dog,
my friend Luana had her dog, and my mum was in the front,
and Marcio was at the back.
We took the stairs
and...while I was going down, all the smoke,
it's, like, really thick, so it's like...
Thick air going into you is really strong, so everyone...
I can hear everyone trying to find air.
Like, everyone's screaming. Like, choking, gagging.
What I didn't counter for was
the amount of bodies that we had to trip over or step on.
We were stepping on people's arms or legs.
I remember there was this one man,
the man I tripped over on the stairs.
He was alive, but not...
He couldn't get up cos he was old, cos I could tell by his voice.
He was telling me, "Get off me, get off me." I felt really bad.
I was saying, "Sorry, sorry." And I tried getting off him.
I was trying to tell him to get up and get down,
but he was... He couldn't get up.
We were tripping on them.
Um... Yeah, then my daughter fell on the floor.
Though because I didn't let go of the rail,
so I just grab her and I was literally, I was...
..pushing her because she wanted to stop,
but I knew if she stopped I would stop and...
..that was it. But...
Just...it was horrible. Horrible.
We're just going. We're just going
because if we don't go then we're going to die.
So we're trying to run, we're just...
You know, just scurrying, just keep on going, just keep on going.
And then I thought at one point
I was going to collapse, but I was lucky.
It was a light, a big light, and there was...
Like, I felt the fresh air.
That's when I woke up and then, when I looked,
it was Andreia and Megan behind me.
And there was no Lulya, there was no Luana, and there was no Marcio.
So I met the fireman downstairs
and he asked me, "Which floor are you? Which floor are you?"
And I said to him, "Well, I came from the 21st floor
"and I want to go back." And he said to me, "You're not going back."
And I said to him, "I am going back.
"I'm not leaving without my daughter."
It's understood that temperatures reached 1,600 degrees
inside Grenfell Tower.
Back up on the 21st floor, six people were still trapped,
including the pensioner Ligaya Moore.
It may never be known exactly what happened to her
on the last night of her life,
but Ligaya was identified last month from remains found in her flat.
Next door to Ligaya Moore, sheltering in flat 182,
were the El Wahabis.
They'd followed the direction to stay put,
having tried to escape early on.
Tragically, this family -
father Abdulaziz, mother Fouzia,
their daughter Nur Huda and sons Yasin and eight-year-old Mehdi -
were to lose their lives that night.
We just knew that they were in there and they weren't coming out.
-That's what they told you?
-Yeah. And you can't ask...
You can't put yourself in that position.
When we got there, we were looking, we're thinking,
"What the hell's going on?"
It just kept burning and burning and burning.
Only four of the residents of the 21st floor
had escaped the building -
Mr Adbu, at around 1.10am,
and Helen, Andreia and Megan some time after 3.30am.
But Marcio and the 12-year-olds Luana and Lulya
were still on the staircase.
I kept shouting to the girls, you know,
"Keep going, keep going, keep going down the stairs,"
try and give them as much encouragement as I could.
But at one point my daughter replied back to me and said, "I can't."
It was coming from behind,
so that's when I realised that she must have let go of the rail.
Luan was screaming at the back.
I was trying to, but I don't think he heard me.
He heard Luana, and then he tried to go back and he was telling us,
"I'm here, come, tell me where you are."
I said, "I'm right here, I'm waiting for you. Follow my voice.
"I'm right here." So, I kept shouting to them.
So, that's why I know I stayed in the stairwell a lot longer,
so I don't know exactly how long it took to go out.
So I tried to climb up the stairs, and then she said, "I can't, Dad.
"I can't." And then at that point there was...
She didn't talk any more.
But the smoke was so heavy you couldn't see
anything that was there, so I just kept trying to shout again,
"I'm still here, I'm waiting, I'm waiting."
I went down, like,
another ten sets of stairs and...
And then I passed out and then I let go of my dog,
cos I couldn't breathe any more.
I looked down, and there was a light coming up,
and it was a fireman with the gear.
So, I quickly just ran down, I grabbed him and I said,
"My daughter and her friend, they've literally just passed out just here.
"Need your help to grab them." So, we were both going up,
but then his colleague was behind, I didn't see him,
but he grabbed me and said, "No, you can't go up."
Erm... And I said, "I need my daughter and her friend,
"she's up here." He said, "We'll go, we'll go." So, they went.
I opened my eyes and I can see some kind of light.
And then I think, "Oh, maybe I'm out of the building.
"Maybe I'm OK."
And then, like, everything goes black.
They grabbed them, cos they can see with the light,
they grabbed them and then we all helped carry them down.
So, as I came down the rest of the stairs,
I started thinking to myself, you know, "Where's Andreia?
"Where's my youngest daughter?"
And at point, I went full-on panic.
Erm... Because in my head, I started thinking,
"All those bodies that I stepped on,
"that I had to manoeuvre over, was that my daughter?
"Was that my wife?"
So, I tried to go back up for them, to try and find them,
but the firefighters didn't let me.
They all came, grabbed me, and took me down and said,
"No, you can't go back up, you can't go back up."
They had smashed the windows at the bottom to make a walkway
and then they had the police shielding,
because everything was falling down,
and at the bottom it was just...
It felt like lava. It was all melted plastic.
Black, thick, melted plastic you were stepping on.
And then they had to use the riot shields to stop
things from hitting you.
The police then came and grabbed me and I was like, "No, I need to
"go back, I still need my wife, I need to see where she is."
And the policeman said, "I'm not promising anything,
"but there's a pregnant woman over there."
And I sort of relaxed a bit at that point.
And then the other one said, "Is your daughter's name Megan,
"by any chance?" And at that point, I just went...
You know, I'm good here because I know they've got out.
31 people who lived on the top three floors of Grenfell Tower
are believed to have died that night.
Only five others escaped from there besides the Gomes family -
Helen and Lulya.
When I went downstairs and the guy, the fireman, he asked me,
"Which floor did you come from?"
And I said to him, "21st floor," he was really shocked...
..because we came out around four o'clock and it was really bad,
really, really bad, and I don't even know how we made it.
How, I don't know.
The deaths of all five members of the 21st floor's El Wahabi family
have left their relatives devastated.
The youngest, judo enthusiast Mehdi, was just eight.
His school now has a memorial to him in its playground.
I would be pleased
if his last moments were with the mother
he clearly loved and cared about,
and she would want her son close to her.
His brother and sister were there as well and I can only assume it is...
If there was a good way to die, that would be the best way to die,
amongst people that loved you and cared for you.
And when you think about that last conversation you had with him,
do you think about that conversation?
Yeah, I do,
and I'm bitter about it. I'm not going to say I'm happy
and it's something we have to learn to live with.
But...I'm not going to forget.
I'm going to keep fighting the only way I know how
and I want someone's head, or heads, to be on the block.
There's no way you're getting away with it.
The annual celebration of West London life takes on
new resonance in the wake of one of the biggest disasters
in recent British history.
Justice is the biggest thing for everybody that
lived in Grenfell Tower.
You know, all those that passed away and for the survivors as well.
It means somebody, or a company, being held accountable.
Andreia and Marcio didn't just lose close neighbours and friends.
Andreia didn't know what was going on cos she was in an induced coma.
My daughters were all in intensive care in induced comas as well.
The doctor came and said... I knew something was wrong straight away
when they told me,
in these scenarios, they take the mother as a priority.
Erm... So, I broke down for a bit cos I knew.
I knew what they were saying without saying it.
And then later on they said, you know,
the baby had passed away.
I'm so sorry. And he was seven months old, right?
And did they say why?
What caused that?
I was... To me, they didn't say anything.
It was all him, all him.
They can't say 100%, but they said that the heart just couldn't cope
with the lack of oxygen that the baby didn't get.
Andreia and their daughters were treated for cyanide poisoning
in hospital, so too was Helen's daughter Lulya,
but they had got separated in the escape.
It took me the whole day to find my daughter
and I didn't even know that she collapsed on the tenth floor.
And I think, luckily,
I found my daughter around six o'clock.
Six o'clock in the evening, that's when I found her,
and she was lying in the bed in a coma.
I think we were lucky, yeah.
We're so lucky.
My wish was that everybody made it out,
especially my close neighbours that didn't make it out.
It's been very difficult for my daughters,
especially cos they had kids, and we knew each other really well.
You know, was it lucky? Yes, maybe for us.
You know, it's just a difficult situation, really, to deal with.
It's very, very emotional. Very.
You know, thinking that, you know, you've got friends there who
support you, who's always there with you, you know?
And then, all of a sudden,
they're not there.
It's not easy. I can tell you that it's not easy.
In an extended Newsnight film, residents talk about their community and the events that unfolded on the 21st floor of Grenfell tower. It is a powerful and at times disturbing account.