LONDON — In the shadow of London’s Grenfell Tower, the pain is as fresh as the newly laid flowers for the dead.
One year ago, the residential high-rise was destroyed by a fire that killed 72 people. It was the greatest loss of life in a fire on British soil since World War II, a horror that left the neighbourhood and the country in shock.
On Thursday, survivors, bereaved families and people around Britain are marking the anniversary of a local tragedy that’s also a national shame — one for which blame still is being assigned and traded. Was Grenfell a tragic accident, the product of government cost-cutting and lax safety standards, or authorities’ disregard for people who lived in public housing?
“I don’t see this as a tragedy. I see it as an atrocity,” Hissam Choucair, who lost six members of his family in the fire, told a public inquiry last month.
For the sombre anniversary rituals, survivors will gather near the base of the tower’s shell before a nationwide minute of silence at noon. There will be vigils and marches across Britain, while landmarks will be lit up in green, the colour of remembrance adopted after the lethal fire.
“We want the nation to keep Grenfell in their consciousness,” said Yvette Williams of local campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell. “The anniversary is about love and support — the fight can start again on Friday and Saturday — and keeping that humanity going on that day.”
A year on, the west London neighbourhood around Grenfell echoes with sounds of construction. The ruined tower, which stood for months like a black tombstone on the skyline, is covered in white sheeting. A green heart and the words “Grenfell forever in our hearts” are emblazoned at the top.
Notice boards and walls nearby carry hand-written tributes, expressions of sorrow and promises of resolve: “RIP to the fallen”; “I love my Uncle Ray”; “RIP Yas”; “We won’t fail!”
Flowers, candles, and well-worn teddy bears that were left in memory of the dead are tended by local volunteers. A note from Prime Minister Theresa May, attached to a wreath of white roses, promises: “They will never be forgotten.”
The fire broke out shortly before 1 a.m. on June 14, 2017 in the kitchen of Behailu Kebede’s fourth-floor apartment. Kebede woke the neighbours on his floor and called firefighters, who soon arrived.
High-rise apartment towers are supposed to be designed to stop apartment fires spreading. But within minutes, the flames had escaped Kebede’s apartment and raced up the outside of the 25-story tower like a lit fuse.
Many residents fled, but some on the upper floors observed official fire-safety advice and stayed put. The fire brigade changed the guidance at 2:47 a.m. By that time, the building’s only stairwell was smoke-filled and treacherous.
Several people died trying to get out. Others perished in their homes as they waited to be rescued, or died in neighbours’ apartments where they’d taken shelter. Three people were found dead outside, having fallen or jumped from the tower.
Rania Ibrahim, who died with …read more