x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fire victims left to fend for themselves

Blaze on Al Falah Street destroyed their possessions and homes; by day they search for another room, by night they sleep in cars.

Niaz Muhammed, from Pakistan, picks through the twisted remains of his bed.
Niaz Muhammed, from Pakistan, picks through the twisted remains of his bed.

ABU DHABI // No one was injured in the fire that struck an apartment block on Al Falah Street on Friday. That was scant comfort for the dozens of burnt-out residents who were trying to piece together their lives. As with the victims of earlier fires in Abu Dhabi, no agency has stepped up to offer aid. Everyone was left to find his own food and shelter, and to replace what was lost.

The victims spent nights in their cars, on the streets and on friends' floors. Some were still barred yesterday from sifting through the soot-stained piles in their gutted rooms to search for photographs, keepsakes and documents. The rooms of about 80 residents were destroyed, leaving them to begin a search for accommodation in the middle of a month. Their furniture, clothing and money are gone.

"For bachelors, there is no chance," said Shahid Saddique, 25, who works in a bank. His flat was too badly damaged in the fire for him to return. "We are trying to find a new room, but so many buildings are family-only buildings." Mr Saddique shared a room in a flat with five other people and now faces a difficult search for a bed in a city that, overnight, seemed to become less friendly. Last night he slept in his 1999 Toyota Camry parked on the Corniche.

With little money and only the clothes on his back, he calculates that he will have to sell his car to be able to move into a new place. Maniyan Thazhaputhan-Veettil, 55, a driver for Avis Rent a Car, has taken up temporary residence in his vehicle, too. He said he has not bathed since the fire left him homeless. He was living in flat 704, which was destroyed. "I have had no sleep. Yesterday our flat was opened by the police," he said, adding that he lost everything. "It's all burnt. What can I do? I don't know."

Because most expatriates live far from their families, the victims have had to rely on their wits and the kindness of friends. Kamran Suheil, a 28-year-old Pakistani who works at a bank, said he is unsure what he will do. "Still we are searching. I spent the last night on the Corniche," he said. He said he had to take time off from work to deal with the police, who are investigating his flat, and to search for a new home.

"My boss was very angry with me," he said. "He called to yell at the same time that I was sitting in the police station." Ramesh T Kumar, 40, supervisor at a spare-parts shop in Musaffah, lost clothes, bedding and Dh200. His passport was saved because his employer holds it. He stayed with a friend last night, sleeping on the floor of a flat near the Russian embassy. He hopes to find new accommodation in the next few days.

He will also go back to work in a few days but first he said he had to shop for clothes. "I only have these clothes on me." The plight of these bachelors is familiar to VB Rao, 33, who lost everything in a residential fire on Hamdan Street in December. For 10 days he slept on friends' floors. Eventually he found a room he could share nearby, but at a higher price: Dh1,500 per month. Two men died in the fire that took his possessions four months ago. Mr Rao has rebuilt his life, but without much help.

"No," he said. "I am the only one who has purchased everything." jgerson@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Kathryn Lewis and Suryatapa Bhattacharya