x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tower blaze leaves former residents homeless, sleeping in cars

Families who lose everything in fire are being asked by utilities and phone companies to pay extra for disconnection fees 'as they had not informed them in advance'.

Dove Ifeanyi estimates he lost Dh200,000 in cash and belongings when a fire gutted his apartment and destroyed the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4 in Sharjah last week. He says he and his family were not offered accommodation by any charities and were now staying with friends.
Dove Ifeanyi estimates he lost Dh200,000 in cash and belongings when a fire gutted his apartment and destroyed the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4 in Sharjah last week. He says he and his family were not offered accommodation by any charities and were now staying with friends.

SHARJAH // Mohammed Hawi counted himself lucky when his family escaped the fire that destroyed their home last week.

But now the father of two feels his luck is running out.

Five days after he lost everything in the blaze that destroyed the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4 in Sharjah, he is forced to sleep in his 4x4.

Mr Hawi, who has sent his wife and two-month-old twins home to Lebanon to stay with his family, has filled his car with everything he needs - bedding, personal effects, even his toothbrush - and is resigned to living on his back seat, at least for the time being.

"After the fire I first tried to find my family a hotel to stay in," he said. "My twin babies could not stay outside for so long waiting for charitable accommodation, so I went and took a room in the Sharjah Palace Hotel.

"It was quite expensive for me for the last five days, and I had to send them home to stay with my family and try to move on alone as a man."

Mr Hawi's family was one of 125 left homeless after their flats and belongings were destroyed.

The Sharjah Charity and Red Crescent were quick to offer help and put up families in hotels around Sharjah.

But some beneficiaries say there were not enough rooms to go round - or for long enough.

Tariq Ghazi complained he was given a room in a hotel for only three days by the Red Crescent and is now homeless again.

"There are some people who got six days and others, we just got three days. It's too little," Mr Ghazi said.

The Sharjah Charity put Aisha Yusuf and her family up in the Al Hayat Hotel, and even extended their stay by three days. But they have to move out by noon today.

Ms Yusuf said finding a place to live was proving to be difficult because of the drawn-out process involving various municipal departments.

"The problem is there are so many bureaucracies to go through before one signs another contract here," she said. "You have to cut electricity and internet in the previous apartment and all this needs time.

"I'm moving up and down with my two-year-old daughter to find a new apartment. My husband's sister, who is six months pregnant, is also trying to work out the bureaucracies surrounding the previous apartment and my husband has to go to work. We are all working."

Mr Hawi was angry the block's tenants had to go through the same process as normal residents when looking to change flats, despite their exceptional circumstances.

"Sewa [Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority] needs money to disconnect and close our gutted apartment file," he said.

"When I went to Etisalat to cancel my internet and telephone they asked me to an pay one extra month more as I had not informed them in advance. No one cares that we are in an emergency."

Ifeanyi Dove, a Nigerian, said he and his family were not offered accommodation by any charities and were now staying with friends.

"I'm very disappointed that they even talk of giving out money, they registered my name and my family members' names and no money has been given," Mr Dove said.

He said he was planning to visit Buhaira police station to register property that was destroyed in the fire, including Dh75,000 wired to him by a business partner from Nigeria.

The fire at the tower, opposite Al Taawun Mall, started at 2am last Thursday. It took emergency crews from three emirates about 10 hours to bring it under control.

Residents were woken by firefighters who entered the building to alert them of the danger.

Sharjah Police CID officers are still investigating the cause of the blaze.

ykakande@thenational.ae