x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Homeless Dubai tower fire residents out in the cold for Christmas

Fire Safety: Families left homeless after blaze in November struggling to find normality in time for Christmas Day.

John Cox and his family have little to cheer about this Christmas after the fire ensured they could not return to their Dubai apartment in Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
John Cox and his family have little to cheer about this Christmas after the fire ensured they could not return to their Dubai apartment in Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

DUBAI // They have lost their homes, furniture and personal belongings, so it is little surprise that victims of the Tamweel Tower fire have yet to get into the festive spirit.

For many who escaped the blaze with only the clothes on their backs, thoughts of buying presents for children and family have barely begun to register as a concern.

Ilham Laullami, from France, who shared her 24th floor flat with her two children, aged 4 and 6, has only just found a new home in The Gardens. "I will try to buy Christmas presents, but it's already so close and I have to buy many other things," she said. "We don't even have a fridge or a cooker. All of these are more of a priority.

"It's not easy to afford them, and not easy to get them delivered."

A friend has invited Ms Laullami and her children to their apartment for Christmas dinner. "It's very kind of them, but we still don't know what we will do," she said.

The fire, on November 18, almost completely destroyed one part of the building, but left other areas intact.

John Cox, whose flat was left untouched, is moving with his family to a new apartment this weekend.

However, being unable to celebrate Christmas in his own home had dampened the seasonal cheer.

"Christmas has been cancelled this year," he said. "Unfortunately, we're not in the mood for celebrating."

Mr Cox, like many apartment owners, has been left in the dark over when he can move back to his property. He has taken out a year's rental in the newly built Latifa Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, but is unsure whether he will have to leave before the end of the contract.

"It's taking so long," he said. "Part of the problem is the uncertainty."

Surendra Nayar, chairman of the owners' association, said there were no sticking points in the process.

"These things take time," he said. "The insurance company received the police report a week ago, and we expect a settlement soon."

Mr Nayar, himself a Tamweel owner, said that despite not being Christian his family normally celebrate the festive period. "We normally go for a meal or have a Christmas tree at home," he said. "But this year, being displaced, that hasn't happened."

According to a police report, the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette butt that ignited dry waste outside the building. The fire spread up the side of the building via the flammable cladding. Sections of the cladding rained down on to residents gathered outside.

No one was injured in the blaze, but it left many worried about the safety of their families.

Jad Elias, whose baby daughter was born 12 days before the fire broke out, said his apartment was a charred ruin.

"I managed to go back in, but I could only save very little," he said. "We are having to start from scratch, as if we've just moved to Dubai."

He is trying to have his family moved into a newly rented apartment in Business Bay in the next week. "I'm running around, trying to get us settled in the new apartment before Christmas," he said. "But I don't want to rush things, I want to make sure I make rational decisions."

Mr Elias, who is Lebanese but was born in Dubai, will spend Christmas with his parents and in-laws, all of whom live in the emirate.

This has eased some of the pressure in getting everything ready on time.

"We will have Christmas presents," he said. "We don't want to ruin Christmas, but it will be very difficult."

mcroucher@thenational.ae