x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Blaze residents return to count costs

People living in an apartment block that caught fire were yesterday allowed to enter their homes and take stock.

Residents of Al Aneeqa Tower in Sharjah wait in the lobby yesterday to see the fire damage to their flats. No electricity meant a long climb for those living above the 8th-floor flat where the blaze began.
Residents of Al Aneeqa Tower in Sharjah wait in the lobby yesterday to see the fire damage to their flats. No electricity meant a long climb for those living above the 8th-floor flat where the blaze began.

SHARJAH // Atta Mohammed sat in a daze on the steps outside his apartment block, oblivious to the commotion of other residents seeking to enter their fire-damaged homes.

The businessman's cream kandura was yesterday covered in black smudges after rummaging through the remains of his 20th-floor flat to recover passports, his children's degrees and other valuables.

"I am really tired," said Mr Mohammed, 48. "There is no electricity and the elevators are not working. I have walked up 20 floors twice to get my things."

Minutes after a fire began in the kitchen of flat 803 of the Al Aneeqa Tower in Al Nahda on Tuesday, it began spreading to the floors above.

Mr Mohammed was at home at the time with his wife when he heard an explosion.

"The house filled with smoke and my wife had an asthma attack and could barely walk," he said. "It was horrific when we saw flames all around us and had to start running.

"My wife was so sick that halfway down she asked me to leave her but I somehow managed to drag her with me."

Mr Mohammed was devastated by the loss when he returned yesterday morning.

"The kitchen does not exist any more," he said. "Because of the heat a lot of my furniture has melted. I would say I've lost about Dh100,000 worth of items."

The kitchens of all the flats above number 803 were gutted.

At Mr Mohammed's residence, the carpets were soaked in water, walls and furniture were covered in soot and the false ceiling in the corridor had fallen down. The kitchen had collapsed and all of their appliances were destroyed.

The fire began at 12.50pm and took firefighters from Dubai and Sharjah an hour to extinguish.

An investigation into its cause is continuing but building representatives said it may have been started by an appliance short-circuit in the flat of an Afghan man, who was being questioned by police yesterday.

Residents complained of mismanagement by authorities in containing the fire.

"It was a small fire but because there was no timely action it spread," said one resident.

"There was no evacuation plan and the fire was not being put out. The fire hoses on every floor were not being used to contain it."

On Tuesday evening, authorities cordoned off the building as a precautionary measure, but they were allowing people to visit and collect their belongings yesterday morning.

Kareem Ablej, a financial consultant who lives on the 16th floor, said he had no place to go on Tuesday night.

"There was no accommodation provided for us and we waited outside the building until 2am," Mr Ablej said.

"We finally got permission from the police to go to our flats. My siblings and I cleaned up some of the rubble and bunked there."

Weary residents expressed their frustration with the building owners for not arranging alternative accommodation.

"Many spent the night in their cars or had to go to a friend's place," said Mohammed Jawed, from Pakistan. "I was here until 2am and I saw women standing on the road with their children because they didn't have any place to go."

Saeed Al Jabri, the property agent who was handling the grievances of the residents on site, said the company was doing its best.

"Eighteen flats have been destroyed and now we are waiting for a report from the insurance company to assess the damage," Mr Al Jabri said.

By yesterday evening, the electricity had been reconnected in parts of the building and those with the worst-affected homes were handed keys to undamaged, vacant apartments.

But Mr Al Jabri said he could not give a time for the start to renovations.

Residents said they should be compensated and provided with accommodation while the matter was being addressed.

Tenants whose apartments have not been affected hope they will be able to get back to their daily routines soon.

Mr Mohammed is among the residents who have been given keys to a vacant flat while his apartment is fixed.

"I was given the key to another single-bedroom place so I am glad we can stay here," he said. "My wife and son came out safe. That was most important to me.

"Money comes and goes, but if something had happened to my family it would be real devastation."

aahmed@thenational.ae