A disabled woman who made a “miraculous” escape from the top floor of Grenfell Tower has told a parliamentary meeting that her husband would still be alive today if there had been an evacuation plan in place for her.
Flora Neda and her son – who carried her on his back down many of the building’s 23 floors – were the only two survivors of the fire from the top floor.
She had begged her husband, Saber (pictured), to follow them but he stayed behind to help four women who had taken refuge in their flat, part of a large group of residents who had been told a fire brigade helicopter was coming to rescue them from the roof.
Part of their flat was now already on fire, and Saber told his wife that he would be right behind them, but she later found out that he had died from his injuries after apparently jumping from the tower.
Many disabled residents were among the 72 people who lost their lives in the fire, on 14 June 2017, and the inquiry into the fire detailed how they had been failed repeatedly by both London Fire Brigade and the organisation that managed the building on behalf of a local authority.
The Neda family had arrived in London in 1998 as refugees, after fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, and settled in Grenfell Tower, where they lived happily for many years.
Flora Neda described her “horrific” ordeal this week to a joint meeting of the all-party parliamentary groups on disability and on fire safety and rescue, attended by the building safety minister Lord Greenhalgh.
The meeting was discussing a government consultation on plans to force owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
But disabled campaigners have raised serious concerns that the measures will not go far enough and will leave many disabled residents without a legal right to a PEEP (see separate story).
Flora said her husband had been told repeatedly by the fire and rescue service to “stay put, stay put”.
She told the meeting of MPs, peers, fire safety experts and campaigners: “If we hadn’t trusted them or there had been some sort of an evacuation plan, my husband would be alive today.”
Part of her story was told by her interpreter, who told the meeting: “It’s important that you know that the lack of a PEEP is the difference between life and death.
“Fire doesn’t discriminate, and no-one knew it was going to happen, but when it happened no-one knew what to do, and the only thing they were told was, ‘stay put, stay put, stay put, we are coming to get you,’ and no-one came.”
She added: “It was really a miracle that they survived, they were the only two people that survived from that top floor.
“They had a horrific evacuation. In her witness statements to the inquiry, she described the horror of it, stepping over people as they were taking their last gasp of breath, people were grabbing her ankles… it is a miracle that they survived.”
Although she managed to walk a few floors, for much of the way her son, Farhad, carried her on his back through the choking black smoke.
But she told the meeting that she did not see a firefighter until they reached the fifth floor of the building.
After they were helped down the final five floors by firefighters, both Flora and her son were taken to hospital and placed into induced comas because of the effects of the toxic smoke they had breathed in, with Farhad spending a week in a coma and his mother three weeks.
In the last couple of weeks, Farhad has been diagnosed with emphysema.
His mum told the meeting; “It is all because of that fire and how we were ignored.”
She said they had lived in their flat in Grenfell Tower for 20 years as tenants of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and in all that time they were never told what they should do in the event of a fire.
She added: “For those people who are private tenants and own their own properties, if the government and council don’t listen to you as private owners, imagine how little notice we are taken of as social housing tenants who are also disabled and in this situation.
“Four years after this catastrophe and we hear about how many of these buildings still have that kind of cladding on them and you can only conclude that no matter what, we are always ignored.”
The meeting also heard that one of the women who had taken refuge in their flat on the 23rd floor, and who died in the fire, was another disabled resident, Sakina Afrasehabi.
It was legal action taken by Sakina Afrasehabi’s family that forced the government to launch the consultation, after the original plans for PEEPs put forward by ministers were criticised for watering down the Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations.
Those original plans would only have applied to disabled people living in high-rise buildings covered with the aluminium composite material cladding used on Grenfell.
But although the proposals outlined in the consultation have expanded the proposed protections, they would still only guarantee a PEEP to disabled residents living in buildings over 18 metres in height.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…