x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Heartbreak as Dubai tower residents pick through the ashes

Take our poll: Investigation into fire at Jumeirah Lakes Towers continues, as tenants count cost and neighbours rally to provide some comfort

Jim Bishop and Jane Bishop come out with their belongings from Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
Jim Bishop and Jane Bishop come out with their belongings from Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

DUBAI //Ilham Laullami emerged from the ruined Tamweel Tower yesterday with two bags of smoke blackened clothes - all she could recover from what remains of her home.

Her family's passports and furniture were destroyed, along with their 24th-floor flat, when the tower block was engulfed by fire early on Sunday morning.

"It's all gone, there's nothing left," said Ms Laullami, who along with her son Sarif, 6, was covered with soot after searching for their belongings.

A crowd of tenants, yet to see the condition of their own apartments, gathered around as she showed pictures of her ruined flat.

Sarif, emotionally exhausted, sat on a kerb with his head bowed.

"We were able to save some of my son's clothes, which were furthest from the fire, and a copy of the Quran, which was undamaged," she said.

"There's nothing left of the furniture. Our suitcases, where our passports were, are completely burnt. There's only a little that isn't destroyed. We have to start again from scratch."

Residents worried about destroyed ID cards received good news yesterday when Emirates ID revealed that replacement cards would be printed.

Ms Laullami was one of hundreds of residents granted access to their flats yesterday.

People gathered in the car park from early in the morning, but were only given access on a floor-by-floor basis after 1pm.

There was confusion as police ruled midway through the day that people living above the 22nd floor would need to sign a waiver at Jebel Ali police station, stating they were entering the building at their own risk.

"It's complete chaos," said Tamara Ballan, who lived on the 14th floor. "We're practically having to beg them to enter our own apartments."

Residents from Tamweel Tower and the nearby Al Seef buildings set up a stall and offered tea and biscuits to those waiting.

"We understand what everyone's going through and just wanted to help," said Rashmi Menon.

Most residents found their flats still intact. Interjeet Singh, from the 10th floor, emerged shortly after 2pm with four suitcases full of possessions - and three living tortoises.

"My friend brought them around two days before the fire broke out," Mr Singh said. "I'm just so happy they're still alive."

But those living above the 10th floor on the north facing side of the building were not so lucky. Their homes suffered significant damage.

Jim Bishop managed to salvage only passports and two bags of clothes from his 12th-floor flat.

"It's completely gone, the smoke destroyed everything," Mr Bishop said. "Even inside the drawers and cupboards, where we thought they would be protected, it was all completely rotten."

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

An official from the Civil Defence at the scene declined to comment as an investigation was under way. He did not say when it would be completed.

Dozens of residents said there were no sprinklers working in the building, fire hoses were without water and alarms weren't triggered until at least 15 minutes after the fire started.

One man, who declined to be identified, said his flat on the 10th floor was practically destroyed by smoke and water from fire hoses.

"We managed to save a few clothes, but all the furniture is gone," he said. He added the electricity in the building was still on, despite entire floors being flooded.

"I didn't really want to go in but I needed to get my stuff."

The Developer Tamweel did not respond to requests for a comment.

The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, the master developer of the Jumeirah Lakes Towers, commended the efforts of the emergency services after the fire and community spirit shown by residents.

A Civil Defence spokesman said police officials would initially investigate the cause of the fire.

"After they tell us why the accident happened, we will check the building to see if there is anything dangerous inside," the spokesman said. "We do this after every fire."

Firefighters from six stations arrived at 1.51am on Sunday.

"They were able to control and limit the fire at about 8.19am so that it did not spread to other buildings," the spokesman said.

No one was injured.

mcroucher@thenational.ae