Grenfell Tower: The 21st Floor Newsnight


Grenfell Tower: The 21st Floor

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.


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Transcript


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This programme contains some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting

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It was lovely. I loved living there.

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Everyone was nice.

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It was our house. It was our home.

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It was a very special building, Grenfell Tower. Very special.

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They were trying to say that it was a very poor tower,

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a broken tower, if you like, but it was far from that.

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It's a community where everyone knows each other.

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My room is on fire, just like that.

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All my curtains were on fire, my Moses basket was on fire.

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All that side of the window was all on fire.

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So, we were just trying to run.

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We were just... You know, just scurrying, just keep on going,

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just keep on going.

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Thick air going into you is really strong, so everyone...

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I can hear everyone, like, trying to find air.

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I just can't believe that they're gone.

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They're just gone, just like that.

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So many stories have emerged from Grenfell,

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but this is the story of one of the top floors, the 21st.

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15 people living as close neighbours

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in six flats around a central hallway.

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Amongst them, an NHS porter,

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a management consultant,

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a pensioner,

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an IT manager and a beautician.

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You'd meet all sorts of different people.

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You've got English friends, Irish friends...

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Erm, Arabic friends, Muslim backgrounds and Portuguese.

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We have a few families Portuguese there. Spanish, Italians, erm...

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Yeah, diversity in the tower was really good.

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And you get to see all these different cultures.

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It's been painted as a very...

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A very kind of poverty-stricken building,

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and maybe parts of it were,

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but that's certainly not the impression that we had

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when viewing it.

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The flat itself, it was just beautiful.

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The landlord had done it up very nicely.

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It was very tasteful, very modern.

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And because it was quite high up, on the 21st floor,

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-it had amazing views all around it.

-Really nice views.

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It's my home.

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I know a lot of people there, my neighbours, you know?

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And everyone there, you know...

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When you live somewhere 20 years, it's your home, you know?

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Helen Gebremeskel runs a beauty salon in West London.

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Originally from Eritrea,

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though she'd lived in the tower for 20 years,

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for the past three, Helen and her daughter Lulya rented

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the two-bedroom council flat, number 186,

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on the 21st floor.

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My house was amazing.

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I did everything in the house. Everything.

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The floor, the painting,

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new furniture.

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We had a purple carpet and purple pillows,

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but the house was all white, so that was the only thing that stood out.

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All the neighbours around us - it's a six-flat -

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people are nice. People are really nice and we get along very well.

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But on June 14th, around 1am,

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the fire started on the fourth floor of tower.

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-Listen to him! Listen to him!

-Get out!

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Within minutes, it rapidly spread.

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When I woke up, I was just looking around and I can smell smoke,

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you know? And I was going to myself, "Well, what is going on?"

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In the window, there was a fire. I saw the fire coming, so I just run.

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She grabbed me and she told me to get the dog,

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so I got the dog and ran out.

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We tried to take the stairs.

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I went to the corridor and I can see people, you know,

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my neighbours, coming...

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And it was just confusing.

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People were telling us to go back up

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because the firefighters told them to go back up,

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-like, to go to the top.

-And we couldn't get out because

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they told us, "Go back, go back to your flat. Go back to your flat."

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The 21st floor neighbours that Helen

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and Lulya met trying to escape lived at number 182.

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A Moroccan family of five, the El Wahabi's had been

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renting their home from the council for 20 years.

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That flat was their home.

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It was actually like they took the place from Morocco

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and it was in the flat and I was, like, amazed.

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Chris's brother-in-law Abdulaziz came to the UK as a child.

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He worked in the hospital, and he was a porter,

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and he was much-loved by the people that he worked with.

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He carried over that sense of humour, which was contagious.

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It was the sort of job that you do...

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Someone's got to go into the operating theatre, someone's

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got to be shown to X-ray, someone's got to collect medicines...

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It's a very important job, you just don't get well paid for it.

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Abdulaziz and his wife Fouzia's eldest son Yasin was 20.

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Described as a grafter like his dad, he was studying accountancy

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while working part-time on an uncle's Moroccan rug stall

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and as football referee.

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His 15-year-old sister Nur Huda had just done her GSCEs.

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Relatives told us the parents were so proud of their three children,

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flat 182 was full of photos of them through the years.

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The family were part of the close-knit

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community on the 21st floor.

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Neighbours recall Fouzia El Wahabi's generosity.

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I remember, Christmas,

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she came to knock on our door

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with this huge chicken.

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I said, "Oh, er..."

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"Oh, this if for you cos it's Christmas

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"and, you know, it's a welcome..."

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Lovely, lovely family.

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Their youngest one, he used to come

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and knock our door every single Sunday to play with our youngest.

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He used to come to me and say, "Megan's dad, Megan's dad,

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-"can Megan go and play?"

-Yeah.

-He never used to call my by my name.

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He would always... "Megan's dad, Megan's dad."

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Whoa, look. The fire's spreading up.

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On the night of the fire,

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having tried to make it downstairs at the same time

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as Helen and Lulya, Abdulaziz El Wahabi

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and his family returned to their flat and called 999.

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He did leave the flat, but he went back into the flat

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when he was told to go back into the flat,

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so he followed the instructions.

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Marcia and Andreia Gomes lived next door in flat 183

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with their daughters Megan and Luana.

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An IT manager and a clothes shop supervisor who was heavily

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pregnant when the fire broke out,

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they'd been renting their flat from the council for ten years.

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When you went into the tower, it was your home.

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You wouldn't know that you were in a tower.

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Unless you looked out the window, you wouldn't know.

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A lot of our friends said, "Oh, I can't believe it's like this."

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I said, "Yeah, it's amazing. It's really nice."

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The view was amazing.

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It was in this flat, number 183, that Helen and Lulya

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took refuge on the night of the fire.

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Our neighbour knocked on our door and that's what woke us up.

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As soon as we opened the door, smoke came flying in, straight away.

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So, I said them, I said, "Look, come in. Go to the girls'..."

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Because they stay in... We've always stayed in each others' flats.

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So, I said, "Go to the girls' room, be with the girls,"

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cos she was panicking a little bit.

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And then I closed the door

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behind to try and stop the smoke coming in,

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but it was already thick, black smoke.

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So, I said to her, "OK, phone 999."

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I ended up speaking to the Fire Services

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and they were saying, "Stay put,

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"we're already aware of this."

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The normal thing that you'd get.

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Then we started getting phone calls from friends and family,

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basically saying, "You need to get out.

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"There's a fire in the building."

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I said, "I can't, there's too much smoke.

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"And as you know, my wife's pregnant."

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He said, "I know, but you need to try."

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So, we did try, the first time, but it was just too much.

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At one point, I think I asked one of my friends,

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"Can we speak to the fire people or the police?" You know?

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And she let me talk to them

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and we asked them, "What shall we do?"

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And they said to us, "No, someone's going to come and take you out."

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That's what they said to us, from two, three o'clock,

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so that's why we've been waiting and waiting and waiting.

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And then we call again and we ask them, and they say to us,

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"No, stay in. Don't come out. Don't come out."

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All of a sudden, everybody, you know, "Stay low as possible".

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All our windows were open to try and get rid of the smoke.

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At that time, obviously I knew it was quite bad,

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so I filled the bathtub with water,

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and then I left the shower on as well

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because I wanted to try and get some particles into the air

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to make it a little bit easier...to breathe.

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At around 3.30am, the flames reached flat 183.

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My room is on fire, just like that.

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All my curtains were on fire. My Moses basket was on fire.

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All that side of the window was all on fire.

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So, the only thing I could do at the moment was, literally,

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I grabbed the door, cos it's a fire door, I shut the door,

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and then I looked at them and I said, "We have to go now.

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"There's no turning back.

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"We have to try and, you know, it's now or never."

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The fire had reached Marcio and Andreia's bedroom,

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but what of their other neighbours?

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At around the time Helen had first woken up,

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the man in number 184 told us he'd got a call about the fire

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and left the one-bed flat he'd lived in for 27 years.

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Mustafa Sirag Abdu, a civil engineer from Eritrea,

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didn't want to take part in this film.

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Across the corridor, Helen had seen the El Wahabis

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go back into their flat, 182, at around 1.30am.

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We now know the fire was spreading round the building.

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In a call to emergency services around that time,

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we understand the El Wahabis were advised to stay in the flat.

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Later, relatives told us, in another 999 call

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at perhaps 2am, the family were told

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to move into this bedroom and put towels under the door.

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I met Chris Jones on the morning of the fire,

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as he waited for news of his wife's family.

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He told me of the earlier, desperate phone calls as the fire raged.

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And he just said, "Look, there's a lot of smoke in there,

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"we're not leaving." That's what he said. And afterwards, that was it.

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We phoned back, the phone just kept ringing.

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No-one answered the phone.

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Across the hallway from Chris's relatives,

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new tenants had moved into flat 185 just 11 days earlier.

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One of 12 Grenfell properties that were privately owned,

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this flat rented for more than £400 a week.

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By lucky coincidence, that evening, Lee's birthday,

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he and Julian were staying in a hotel.

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They got a call from their landlord about 3.30am,

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around the time the Gomes's flat caught fire.

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And he said, "The building's on fire, Grenfell Tower's on fire."

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So, I just said, "That's...

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"I'm really sorry to hear that, but we're here, it's OK. Is it bad?"

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And he was... He was like, "It's the whole thing. It's everything."

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He caught wind then of what I was talking about

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and started looking things up on the news,

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and I just saw from across the room his face just drop.

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My heart sank and I couldn't say anything.

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I just showed Lee the footage of what was going on.

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It took until the next day really for me to kind of think,

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"OK, no, no. This will have been a..."

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-Lives will have been lost.

-"People will have died in this."

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At first, you think that people will be able to get out.

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There was so many families,

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so many children living there.

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But you just have this hazy memory of who you've seen...

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..and knowing that not all of them will be OK is...

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The neighbour nobody appears to have seen that night

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lived in flat 181.

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Ligaya Moore was retired.

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She'd moved from the Philippines 45 years earlier

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and had worked as a nanny and a waitress.

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She'd been there for many, many years. She was lovely.

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-Always played with the kids.

-Yeah.

-You know, for...

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I think she was 80-something years old

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-and she used to use the stairs, you know?

-Yeah, as her exercise.

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As her exercise, which was amazing.

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From the 21st floor down to the ground, that's a lot of steps.

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Did she like the tower?

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Oh, yes, yes. She loved it

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because it's lovely,

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because it's a posh building.

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She has a double door,

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she saw all the views

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because she has a very big mirror...

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Windows. You can see everything.

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She loved it. She enjoyed it, being alone,

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sightseeing, seeing the beautiful view,

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the London Eye, everything.

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Nenita was the last person to see Ligaya alive.

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She said goodbye to her that night at around 10.30pm.

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Less than three hours later, Grenfell was ablaze.

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I cannot contact her.

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Keep on ringing until it's just shut down, the phone.

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And that morning, I searched for her.

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So many Grenfell residents didn't make it out, but incredibly,

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with the building looking like this, and their flat now on fire,

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those six people sheltering in flat 183,

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the Gomes family with Helen and her daughter,

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tried to leave the 21st floor.

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He said to me, "Helen, we need to go now, we need to go now,

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"or we're going to die. We have to make a move.

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"No turning back, we need to get out."

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So, before we left I got those tea towels,

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wrapped it round everybody's face,

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tied it round the back, and

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then got the big sheets and the big towels

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and put them over everybody cos I didn't know

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if there was going to be any fire or anything like that.

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So, it was literally, once we were lined up, I opened the door,

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Helen... You know, everybody, did exactly

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what they were supposed to do.

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They all went...

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Hit the door into the stairwell, grabbed the rail,

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and then started following it down.

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I had my dog,

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my friend Luana had her dog, and my mum was in the front,

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and Marcio was at the back.

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We took the stairs

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and...while I was going down, all the smoke,

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it's, like, really thick, so it's like...

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Thick air going into you is really strong, so everyone...

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I can hear everyone trying to find air.

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Like, everyone's screaming. Like, choking, gagging.

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What I didn't counter for was

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the amount of bodies that we had to trip over or step on.

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We were stepping on people's arms or legs.

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I remember there was this one man,

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the man I tripped over on the stairs.

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He was alive, but not...

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He couldn't get up cos he was old, cos I could tell by his voice.

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He was telling me, "Get off me, get off me." I felt really bad.

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I was saying, "Sorry, sorry." And I tried getting off him.

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I was trying to tell him to get up and get down,

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but he was... He couldn't get up.

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We were tripping on them.

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Um... Yeah, then my daughter fell on the floor.

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Though because I didn't let go of the rail,

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so I just grab her and I was literally, I was...

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..pushing her because she wanted to stop,

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but I knew if she stopped I would stop and...

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..that was it. But...

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Just...it was horrible. Horrible.

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We're just going. We're just going

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because if we don't go then we're going to die.

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So we're trying to run, we're just...

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You know, just scurrying, just keep on going, just keep on going.

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And then I thought at one point

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I was going to collapse, but I was lucky.

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It was a light, a big light, and there was...

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Like, I felt the fresh air.

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That's when I woke up and then, when I looked,

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it was Andreia and Megan behind me.

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And there was no Lulya, there was no Luana, and there was no Marcio.

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So I met the fireman downstairs

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and he asked me, "Which floor are you? Which floor are you?"

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And I said to him, "Well, I came from the 21st floor

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"and I want to go back." And he said to me, "You're not going back."

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And I said to him, "I am going back.

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"I'm not leaving without my daughter."

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It's understood that temperatures reached 1,600 degrees

0:17:480:17:51

inside Grenfell Tower.

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Back up on the 21st floor, six people were still trapped,

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including the pensioner Ligaya Moore.

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It may never be known exactly what happened to her

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on the last night of her life,

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but Ligaya was identified last month from remains found in her flat.

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Next door to Ligaya Moore, sheltering in flat 182,

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were the El Wahabis.

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They'd followed the direction to stay put,

0:18:180:18:21

having tried to escape early on.

0:18:210:18:23

Tragically, this family -

0:18:230:18:25

father Abdulaziz, mother Fouzia,

0:18:250:18:28

their daughter Nur Huda and sons Yasin and eight-year-old Mehdi -

0:18:280:18:32

were to lose their lives that night.

0:18:320:18:35

We just knew that they were in there and they weren't coming out.

0:18:350:18:39

-That's what they told you?

-Yeah. And you can't ask...

0:18:390:18:43

You can't put yourself in that position.

0:18:430:18:45

When we got there, we were looking, we're thinking,

0:18:450:18:47

"What the hell's going on?"

0:18:470:18:49

It just kept burning and burning and burning.

0:18:490:18:52

Only four of the residents of the 21st floor

0:18:550:18:58

had escaped the building -

0:18:580:18:59

Mr Adbu, at around 1.10am,

0:18:590:19:02

and Helen, Andreia and Megan some time after 3.30am.

0:19:020:19:06

But Marcio and the 12-year-olds Luana and Lulya

0:19:060:19:09

were still on the staircase.

0:19:090:19:11

I kept shouting to the girls, you know,

0:19:160:19:17

"Keep going, keep going, keep going down the stairs,"

0:19:170:19:20

try and give them as much encouragement as I could.

0:19:200:19:23

But at one point my daughter replied back to me and said, "I can't."

0:19:230:19:27

And then...

0:19:360:19:38

It was coming from behind,

0:19:380:19:41

so that's when I realised that she must have let go of the rail.

0:19:410:19:44

Luan was screaming at the back.

0:19:440:19:46

I was trying to, but I don't think he heard me.

0:19:460:19:49

He heard Luana, and then he tried to go back and he was telling us,

0:19:490:19:53

"I'm here, come, tell me where you are."

0:19:530:19:56

I said, "I'm right here, I'm waiting for you. Follow my voice.

0:19:560:19:59

"I'm right here." So, I kept shouting to them.

0:19:590:20:01

So, that's why I know I stayed in the stairwell a lot longer,

0:20:010:20:05

so I don't know exactly how long it took to go out.

0:20:050:20:08

So I tried to climb up the stairs, and then she said, "I can't, Dad.

0:20:080:20:12

"I can't." And then at that point there was...

0:20:120:20:14

She didn't talk any more.

0:20:140:20:16

But the smoke was so heavy you couldn't see

0:20:170:20:20

anything that was there, so I just kept trying to shout again,

0:20:200:20:22

"I'm still here, I'm waiting, I'm waiting."

0:20:220:20:24

I went down, like,

0:20:240:20:27

another ten sets of stairs and...

0:20:270:20:30

And then I passed out and then I let go of my dog,

0:20:310:20:35

cos I couldn't breathe any more.

0:20:350:20:37

I looked down, and there was a light coming up,

0:20:370:20:40

and it was a fireman with the gear.

0:20:400:20:43

So, I quickly just ran down, I grabbed him and I said,

0:20:430:20:45

"My daughter and her friend, they've literally just passed out just here.

0:20:450:20:50

"Need your help to grab them." So, we were both going up,

0:20:500:20:53

but then his colleague was behind, I didn't see him,

0:20:530:20:55

but he grabbed me and said, "No, you can't go up."

0:20:550:20:58

Erm... And I said, "I need my daughter and her friend,

0:20:580:21:00

"she's up here." He said, "We'll go, we'll go." So, they went.

0:21:000:21:04

I opened my eyes and I can see some kind of light.

0:21:040:21:08

And then I think, "Oh, maybe I'm out of the building.

0:21:110:21:15

"Maybe I'm OK."

0:21:150:21:17

And then, like, everything goes black.

0:21:170:21:20

They grabbed them, cos they can see with the light,

0:21:200:21:22

they grabbed them and then we all helped carry them down.

0:21:220:21:27

So, as I came down the rest of the stairs,

0:21:270:21:30

I started thinking to myself, you know, "Where's Andreia?

0:21:300:21:34

"Where's my youngest daughter?"

0:21:340:21:37

And at point, I went full-on panic.

0:21:370:21:41

Erm... Because in my head, I started thinking,

0:21:410:21:45

"All those bodies that I stepped on,

0:21:450:21:48

"that I had to manoeuvre over, was that my daughter?

0:21:480:21:52

"Was that my wife?"

0:21:520:21:55

So, I tried to go back up for them, to try and find them,

0:21:550:21:58

but the firefighters didn't let me.

0:21:580:22:01

They all came, grabbed me, and took me down and said,

0:22:010:22:05

"No, you can't go back up, you can't go back up."

0:22:050:22:07

They had smashed the windows at the bottom to make a walkway

0:22:070:22:13

and then they had the police shielding,

0:22:130:22:17

because everything was falling down,

0:22:170:22:19

and at the bottom it was just...

0:22:190:22:22

It felt like lava. It was all melted plastic.

0:22:220:22:25

Black, thick, melted plastic you were stepping on.

0:22:250:22:28

And then they had to use the riot shields to stop

0:22:280:22:31

things from hitting you.

0:22:310:22:33

The police then came and grabbed me and I was like, "No, I need to

0:22:330:22:36

"go back, I still need my wife, I need to see where she is."

0:22:360:22:39

And the policeman said, "I'm not promising anything,

0:22:390:22:42

"but there's a pregnant woman over there."

0:22:420:22:44

And I sort of relaxed a bit at that point.

0:22:440:22:48

And then the other one said, "Is your daughter's name Megan,

0:22:480:22:50

"by any chance?" And at that point, I just went...

0:22:500:22:54

You know, I'm good here because I know they've got out.

0:22:540:22:57

31 people who lived on the top three floors of Grenfell Tower

0:22:590:23:03

are believed to have died that night.

0:23:030:23:06

Only five others escaped from there besides the Gomes family -

0:23:060:23:09

Helen and Lulya.

0:23:090:23:12

When I went downstairs and the guy, the fireman, he asked me,

0:23:120:23:15

"Which floor did you come from?"

0:23:150:23:17

And I said to him, "21st floor," he was really shocked...

0:23:170:23:20

..because we came out around four o'clock and it was really bad,

0:23:210:23:25

really, really bad, and I don't even know how we made it.

0:23:250:23:28

How, I don't know.

0:23:280:23:30

The deaths of all five members of the 21st floor's El Wahabi family

0:23:330:23:38

have left their relatives devastated.

0:23:380:23:42

The youngest, judo enthusiast Mehdi, was just eight.

0:23:420:23:45

His school now has a memorial to him in its playground.

0:23:490:23:52

I would be pleased

0:23:550:23:58

if his last moments were with the mother

0:23:580:24:02

he clearly loved and cared about,

0:24:020:24:05

and she would want her son close to her.

0:24:050:24:08

His brother and sister were there as well and I can only assume it is...

0:24:080:24:14

If there was a good way to die, that would be the best way to die,

0:24:140:24:18

amongst people that loved you and cared for you.

0:24:180:24:21

And when you think about that last conversation you had with him,

0:24:210:24:24

do you think about that conversation?

0:24:240:24:27

Yeah, I do,

0:24:270:24:29

and I'm bitter about it. I'm not going to say I'm happy

0:24:290:24:32

and it's something we have to learn to live with.

0:24:320:24:35

But...I'm not going to forget.

0:24:350:24:38

I'm going to keep fighting the only way I know how

0:24:380:24:42

and I want someone's head, or heads, to be on the block.

0:24:420:24:46

There's no way you're getting away with it.

0:24:460:24:49

The annual celebration of West London life takes on

0:24:590:25:02

new resonance in the wake of one of the biggest disasters

0:25:020:25:05

in recent British history.

0:25:050:25:07

Justice is the biggest thing for everybody that

0:25:090:25:11

lived in Grenfell Tower.

0:25:110:25:13

You know, all those that passed away and for the survivors as well.

0:25:130:25:17

It means somebody, or a company, being held accountable.

0:25:200:25:24

Andreia and Marcio didn't just lose close neighbours and friends.

0:25:250:25:30

Andreia didn't know what was going on cos she was in an induced coma.

0:25:300:25:34

My daughters were all in intensive care in induced comas as well.

0:25:340:25:39

The doctor came and said... I knew something was wrong straight away

0:25:390:25:42

when they told me,

0:25:420:25:44

in these scenarios, they take the mother as a priority.

0:25:440:25:48

Erm... So, I broke down for a bit cos I knew.

0:25:480:25:51

I knew what they were saying without saying it.

0:25:530:25:56

And then later on they said, you know,

0:25:560:26:00

the baby had passed away.

0:26:000:26:03

I'm so sorry. And he was seven months old, right?

0:26:030:26:07

Seven months.

0:26:070:26:09

And did they say why?

0:26:090:26:11

What caused that?

0:26:110:26:13

I was... To me, they didn't say anything.

0:26:140:26:18

It was all him, all him.

0:26:180:26:21

They didn't...

0:26:210:26:22

They can't say 100%, but they said that the heart just couldn't cope

0:26:220:26:27

with the lack of oxygen that the baby didn't get.

0:26:270:26:32

Andreia and their daughters were treated for cyanide poisoning

0:26:360:26:39

in hospital, so too was Helen's daughter Lulya,

0:26:390:26:42

but they had got separated in the escape.

0:26:420:26:45

It took me the whole day to find my daughter

0:26:450:26:48

and I didn't even know that she collapsed on the tenth floor.

0:26:480:26:53

And I think, luckily,

0:26:530:26:57

I found my daughter around six o'clock.

0:26:570:27:00

Six o'clock in the evening, that's when I found her,

0:27:000:27:03

and she was lying in the bed in a coma.

0:27:030:27:08

Yeah.

0:27:090:27:11

I think we were lucky, yeah.

0:27:120:27:15

We're so lucky.

0:27:190:27:20

My wish was that everybody made it out,

0:27:290:27:33

especially my close neighbours that didn't make it out.

0:27:330:27:35

It's been very difficult for my daughters,

0:27:420:27:45

especially cos they had kids, and we knew each other really well.

0:27:450:27:50

You know, was it lucky? Yes, maybe for us.

0:27:520:27:56

You know, it's just a difficult situation, really, to deal with.

0:27:560:28:00

It's very, very emotional. Very.

0:28:000:28:03

You know, thinking that, you know, you've got friends there who

0:28:030:28:06

support you, who's always there with you, you know?

0:28:060:28:09

And then, all of a sudden,

0:28:090:28:12

they're not there.

0:28:120:28:14

It's not easy. I can tell you that it's not easy.

0:28:170:28:21

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.


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