x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fire victims wait to pick up pieces

Tenants, who claim the building's owners have not been in contact, were questioning the tower's safety system after fire alarms allegedly failed to alert them to the danger.

Ehab Emad and his wife Esra look through what is left of their living room to see if anything can be salvaged from the fire that damaged their 5th floor apartment. Charles Crowell for The National
Ehab Emad and his wife Esra look through what is left of their living room to see if anything can be salvaged from the fire that damaged their 5th floor apartment. Charles Crowell for The National

SHARJAH // Residents of the Sharjah tower block that was destroyed by fire this week say they are confused and angry at the way their situation has been handled.

A few small groups of tenants from flats below the seventh floor were allowed into the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4 to pick through the remains of their belongings yesterday before police closed off the building, saying it was unsafe for anyone else to enter.

The cause of the fire, which broke out early on Wednesday, is unknown and police are still investigating.

Tenants said they were unsure when they would be allowed to see what was left of their homes.

"It will be too dark in the evening and tomorrow is a weekend," said Muhanad Taraz.

Dr Jihad Mahmoud, an American visiting his son who lived in the building, said he was dismayed by the situation.

"Why did they tell us to come in the morning when they knew it would not be safe?" Dr Mahmoud asked.

"In the US, I was among the volunteers who helped victims of Hurricane Katrina. We never had weekends off."

Tenants, who claim the building's owners have not been in contact, were questioning the tower's safety system after fire alarms allegedly failed to alert them to the danger.

"The fire started at 2am, but at 3am I was still comfortably sleeping in my apartment on the 20th floor," said Mohamoud Ibrahim.

Management at Al Baker Group have denied reports the building did not comply with fire-safety requirements and that the alarm system was not working. They said annual maintenance was being carried out on safety equipment.

They said the company was trying to minimise the suffering of tenants and had offered to relocate them to another building.

Harouna Nasr, who lives on the 18th floor, blamed firefighters for the fire spreading. Mr Nasr said he was downstairs at 2.30am and crews had not started to tackle the fire, which had reached the third floor.

"When they started they were controlling the fire from the bottom of the building to the top," he said.

One tenant was collecting names and signatures of residents who were willing to take legal action against the building's owners because of the alleged failure in the fire-alert system and for not turning up at the scene to help tenants.

Taqred Musa, a manager at Al Baker Real Estate, which is responsible for the building, said she was at the site at 9am yesterday.

Brig Abdullah Saeed Al Suwaidi, the director general of Sharjah Civil Defence, said the building had been handed over to CID officers to investigate the cause of the fire.

Brig Al Suwaidi said officials from Sharjah Municipality, police and civil defence would meet next week to discuss the investigation.

 

ykakande@thenational.ae