Grenfell Tower fire survivors demand answers

Grenfell Tower fire survivors demand answers with support slow to arrive

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With a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire set to begin, questions have been raised about transparency and accountability. Samira Shackle reports from London.

On June 14, a fire engulfed Grenfell Tower, a social housing block in west London, killing more than 80 people. Three months later, hundreds of survivors are still struggling to put their lives back together after losing their homes and everything they owned in the blaze.

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Billowing smoke

It took more than 24 hours for firefighters to control the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower shortly after midnight on June 14. Most of the residential building, built in the 1970s, was damaged, the homes destroyed.

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Ruins of a tower

Police and fire services say the fire may have started accidentally in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The rapid growth of the blaze was likely accelerated by the building's exterior cladding, plastic foam between sheets of aluminum foil.

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Gutted buillding

A few days after the blaze, British police released photos of charred apartments and, above, the Grenfell Tower lifts. The conditions due to the fire damage "verge on indescribable," they said.

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Missing

Survivors, friends and families resorted to social media in the hope of finding missing loved ones and posted handwritten and printed posters and signs taped to buildings near the site of the fire.

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Respect for victims

London observed a minute of silence on June 19 to commemorate the victims - killed and injured - of the devastating fire that London Mayor Sadiq Khan called a "preventable accident."

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Royal compassion

Queen Elizabeth met with firefighters and rescuers and also visited survivors of the disaster, who were made homeless and housed in a temporary shelter.

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Careful search

The minute search for bodies in the charred building as well as building assessment at Grenfell Tower continued several days after the blaze.

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Immigration status concerns

Prime Minister Theresa May promised there would be no immigration checks on residents affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. "We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation," May said.

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Charity match

Almost three months after the fitre, celebrities stood in silence for a minute before the kick-off of a charity football match in London aimed at helping to raise funds for the Grenfell Tower survivors.

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Prayer for peace

At the popular Notting Hill Carnival street party, London's Mayor and victims' families released white doves to remember those killed in the Grenfell Tower inferno ......

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Green for Grenfell

.... while other revelers, wearing green to show solidarity with people affected by the fire, visibly distraught and carrying handmade green paper hearts that spelled the word Grenfell, observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims.

On September 14, a preliminary hearing of the public inquiry into what happened at Grenfell will take place. It will start hearing evidence in October. The purpose of the inquiry, headed by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is to discover what happened at Grenfell Tower and to make recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

Read more: Grenfell victims remembered at Europe's largest street festival

While those involved gear up to give evidence, another legal process has been underway in Westminster. Joyce Msokeri, a woman from Sutton in south London, has been charged with seven counts of fraud for claiming 10,000 pounds of support that was offered to survivors. She is accused of falsely claiming that her husband died in the blaze.

The fraud case has drawn attention to the inconsistent way that funds and support have been disbursed to residents. A far bigger problem, residents and community advocates say, has been money getting to people slowly or not at all.

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The angry aftermath of the Grenfell fire

Slow response

"We have just felt totally abandoned. The community was there, stepping up to help people, but the official response has been so slow," said Khadija, a local volunteer who wished to be identified by her first name only. "If you've lost all your bank cards, your passport, your ID, in a fire, then you need cash just to be able to live your life. In those first few weeks, you had volunteers literally withdrawing cash from the ATM to give to victims of the fire so they could eat. Where's the government in all that? Where is the council?"

After the fire, there was a huge outpouring of public grief and support – yet the official response was poorly coordinated. Within hours, individuals had descended on the local area with clothes, water and food. People from the local community mobilized to sort out these donations. It took days for the council to take an active role. And it was only in early July – a fortnight after the blaze – that the government sent in a task force to coordinate the response.

Read more: Grenfell disaster highlights UK infrastructure problems

Nach dem Hochhausbrand in London

A definitive death toll from the fire is not expected until at least 2018

In addition to offering donations of goods, money poured in. Around 18.9 million pounds were collected for survivors, led by the Red Cross, the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, and the Evening Standard.

Yet figures released by the Charity Commission in early August showed that only a fraction of this money had actually made it to those who needed it. Around 2.8 million pounds had gone directly to survivors – less than 15 percent of the total raised. After these figures were published, the speed of distribution stepped up, and by the end of August, around 42 percent had been distributed. But many feel it is still not enough.

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Seeking transparency

"We are appalled by the lack of transparency and accountability over funds raised so far for Grenfell survivors," said Peter Herbert, of BMELawyers4Grenfell, an umbrella organisation of lawyers and local people. "The community has been making complaints for weeks about where the money has gone and until now have effectively been ignored. So far survivors have not been consulted about how they would like to see funds raised being used."

He added: "There are blueprints which could be used for Grenfell such as the Oklahoma bombing, where survivors were consulted on a regular basis about how funds raised for them were used. By now much more money should have reached survivors and community organizations doing the work on the ground."

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Over 180 households are still housed in temporary accommodation, mostly hotels. Just eight have been resettled permanently. With the hearings set to commence, the feeling on the ground is still anger and frustration.

"Of the people I've spoken to, there isn't much confidence in the process," said Khadjia. "People feel they've been overlooked because they're poor and for the most part non-white. There's not much optimism that the inquiry is going to redress that balance."