Thursday, 15 June 2017

So much loss

The massive fire at Grenfell Tower in West London is shocking and distressing in so many ways. If proper fire control measures had been added to the building, the fire would have remained localised and wouldn't have raged through the 24 storey block.

It's hard to envision what it's like to have escaped the fire but be left utterly devastated. To have lost several members of your family, probably dead in the wreckage. To have lost all your possessions apart from what you're standing up in. To have lost your home. To have lost the sense of safety and security you used to take for granted. To have lost trust in those public bodies responsible for the tragedy.

Above all, I can't imagine what it's like to lose several family members, especially if they were children and especially if you doted on them. The grief and bewilderment and sense of loss must be overwhelming.

I can't imagine losing all my possessions.  My favourite china, rugs, paintings, books, CDs, clothes. All those things I cherish and enjoy every day. All those things that are part of my personality, part of me. All those things that remind me of different stages of my life. All those things that have moved with me from home to home, some of them for 50 years.

How dreadful to lose your home, the place where you can relax and let go, where you can be yourself, where you can hide your bad habits, where you can feel insulated against the horrors and cruelties of the outside world.

And how wary you might become of those public figures who were meant to protect you against disaster. Those people safely nestled in their comfortable suburban houses while your dangerous tower-block went up in flames.

How do they deal with it? How do they cope with such trauma?

Pic: Ines Alves, who fled the inferno and then calmly took a chemistry exam


  1. We've been evacuated twice here in town and our place up in the mountains was completely torched in June, 2011:

    You deal with it.

  2. Jean: I tried to copy the link but it won't copy.

    Arson is a different matter. Hard to protect anyone against deliberate fire-raising.

  3. Was it public assistance housing? I couldn't tell from the article, so I didn't quite understand your comment about public figures.

  4. On our island, the Big Island of Hawaii, a village was destroyed by lava. It was a slow moving disaster. People are still coping with the aftermath. There was no loss of life, luckily, but most have not been able to completely recoup their losses.
    I hope these disaster victims will get the help they will need, not just initially but for years to come.

  5. Bijoux: Yes, it's public housing, owned by Kensington & Chelsea Council, and run by the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. The block was recently refurbished at a cost of around £10 million, but clearly the refurbishment didn't meet current fire protection standards.

  6. Hattie: Unfortunately there's a long record of the authorities dragging their heels over helping the victims of major calamities like this one. They're very slow to provide money, new homes, counselling, and other necessities. Kensington and Chelsea Council are hardly in evidence at the various centres for the victims, who are mainly being looked after by volunteers.

  7. I have experienced a fire and have lost material things but not any life.

    Human psyche is, with the rare occasion, a resilient one and given time, will come out of this tragedy, perhaps even stronger for the experience and grateful for not having perished. The key element is however time.

  8. To lose your family is bad enough...but to lose them thanks to neglect and penny pinching is unspeakable.

  9. Ramana: It must take a very long time to get over something so shattering. But yes, the human psyche is remarkably resilient and can often recover well from terrible disasters that seem at the time to be utterly ruinous.

  10. Helen: Neglect and penny-pinching is exactly right. The organisations responsible for the block constantly sat on urgent reports and took no action, or insisted on cutting costs regardless of the possible dangers. They simply don't care about other people's safety.

  11. Unbelieveable. I'm sure all our thoughts and sympathy go out to the family and friends of those lost in this (probably avoidable) catastrophe.

  12. Dave: I'm sure it was totally avoidable, as most fire experts agree. The flats should have been self-sealing so a fire couldn't spread to other flats, and each floor should have been sealed so a fire couldn't travel rapidly upwards or downwards.

  13. As a child I assisted to some very spectacular and devasting Bush fires in Namibia. Frightening. I feel deeply with the London families who mourn and lost all they have. Just horrible..I was very surprised that T. May doesn't even speak to the concerned people. But as you say , they all live in their confortable homes.Just shocking.
    Mia More

  14. Nick, I am gasping for air at Jean's comment "Deal with it".

    Sure, as Ramana - not exactly sympathetic himself - points out, yes, indeed the human condition is such that when forced "to deal with" whatever misfortune may befall us, we will. But at what cost? By which I don't mean money.

    Let's hope Jean's "Deal with it" resounds in the ears of those who burnt to a cinder. Is this the company I keep? My god.


  15. Mia: Theresa May obviously comes from a very privileged background and presumably has had little to do with ordinary folk like the Grenfell residents. So she is nervous about meeting them. An unfortunate failing for a Prime Minister. No wonder the voters are rapidly going off her.

  16. Ursula: I assume that by "You deal with it", Jean meant that when faced with some calamity like the Grenfell fire, you just have to summon your personal resources and do what needs to be done. As thousands of people do every day. But yes, that grim experience can have a cost in terms of emotional upheaval and an ongoing sense of fear and insecurity.

  17. I read somewhere the people were dropping their children out of windows just so they didn't have to burn! omg. I cannot fathom that kind of pain.
    I remember one of those catastrophe movies they made years and years ago ... called
    'the towering inferno'.
    the fire chief chastised the developer of the building ...
    "you KNOW our ladders only can go up to 20 stories for rescue and yet you keep building these monstrosities higher and higher!" I think he said they should all go to prison for it.
    and he's no doubt right.
    money. always the money and greed. they get more money if the buildings are higher.
    so sad and so unnecessary.
    one article I read said that the fire in london was like america's hurricane katrina. people who were poor and expendable apparently. at the rate they were treated by those in power.
    even the queen has now visited them. and yet the last I heard may had not.

  18. Boris Johnson, currently Tory favourite for the next PRime Minister (God help us) really pushed high rise developments in London, often at great cost to neighbourhoods.

  19. I lived thru 2 bad house fires as did my lttle kids and my dog of the time.

    The only importance is human life. Possessions can be replaced. Or not. I can't imagine the unbearable anguish of those surrounded by devastating loss of their beloveds.

    Your PM is a nasty heartless psychopath.

    I hope there are PTSD Experts and grief counsellors on site. And seriously, they need building from the ground up emotionally and materially. There is no recovery but a semblance of normalcy.


  20. Tammy: The London Fire Service had no extra-long ladders, and they had to wait for the Surrey Fire Brigade to send one! Indeed, profit is more important than people's safety, it seems. The company that did the refurbishment made a nice profit but the residents complained that the work they did was shoddy.

    Theresa May eventually met some of the survivors but she had to be pushed hard to do so. She has a habit of avoiding the public and talking only to a close circle of advisers and civil servants.

  21. Jenny: I think high-rise blocks are fine if they're properly built and managed, but council ones quite often are neither. As you know, quite a lot of council tower blocks have been demolished and replaced with low-rise blocks or houses. But tower blocks that are privately owned seem safe enough. Ditto tower block hotels.

  22. www: A nasty heartless psychopath is exactly right. She can't connect with ordinary folk and their often fraught daily lives. She doesn't value human life very highly, as demonstrated by the literally thousands of people who have killed themselves after brutal treatment by the Department of Work & Pensions (who deal with welfare benefits).

    There are no PTSD experts or grief counsellors on site, as far as I know. The local council has provided no help of any kind, and it's volunteers who have been helping the survivors. It seems the council doesn't even have any emergency plans for a disaster of this kind. Unbelievable.

  23. I didn't think these things could still happen in the developed world, there are so many safety measures which could have saved those people and nobody bothered to install them.
    I knew immediately it had to be public housing, only the poor are so badly treated. It seems to me that many of the families in the tower were migrants so of course they had a double whammy of disadvantage and voicelessness ( i made that word up, forgive me)

  24. Kylie: A whole host of safety measures should have been added to the building during the refurbishment, but as you say, these are poor, or low income, households so obviously they don't deserve the same protection as more valuable members of society such as bankers, lawyers and politicians. And yes, racism comes into it as well.

    Not only is voicelessness is a good word, it's actually in the dictionary!

  25. Hi, Ursula,
    I'm glad you're still getting your exercise jumping to conclusions. :) Better than none at all, I guess. If you had looked at the links (I'll try again, here) you would realize I was responding to Nick's,

    "I can't imagine losing all my possessions. My favourite china, rugs, paintings, books, CDs, clothes. All those things I cherish and enjoy every day. All those things that are part of my personality, part of me. All those things that remind me of different stages of my life. All" those things that have moved with me from home to home, some of them for 50 years.

    Hope the links work this time. It makes a big difference if one is living on the edge, of course, but I'm assuming Nick isn't.

  26. No, the links didn't work. Try again here. I sent the first one to my daughter today because she wanted to share the pictures with a friend because of the new fire. She didn't have any trouble with it.

    Yesterday before Andy found he could drive up to our place he said he didn't know what he would do if the new house burned down. We have both decided we wouldn't rebuild it, but would we leave here and move elsewhere? Bring up a trailer or build a little shed for him so he could still go up during the day? He's not worried about this fire unless the wind picks up, but sooner or later there will be one.

    Before the fire six years ago there were several roads out, now there is only one --- one because of the damage from the fire the others because the Forest Service has declared the other routes abandoned. In case the one route we have left is unsafe he's keeping a large defensible space around the house and has smoke protection masks for four visitors (good for about an hour, I think) and a better one for him as he's outside watering everything. We don't have to worry about a new fire being as intense as the last because there's only the new growth to burn, but it's best to be prepared.

    When Beate and Tim were waiting to get through the roadblock to go up to get their cat Friday evening they met one of our neighbors who had just come down. He was traumatized because he barely escaped our big fire. The road Andy drove out on was already blocked by the fire so he had to go down another rough one --- now completely washed out by the flash floods afterwards. If Andy hadn't gone along that road every year to make sure it was driveable, our neighbor would have been burned alive.

  27. PS You have to copy those links and paste them into your address bar.

  28. Jean: The links worked this time. Goodness, the devastation is massive.

    I hope your house is safe and doesn't get in the path of the fire. Shocking that your neighbour might be dead if it wasn't for Andy clearing the access road.

    No, I'm not living remotely on the edge. I live in a leafy residential area between the old Titanic shipyard and Stormont.

  29. It was a horrific event - I feel so sad for the families who lived there.

  30. Agent: It's utterly horrific, and shocking that so many fire protection measures were either not installed or not functioning properly. There seems to be a strong case for corporate manslaughter charges.

  31. I think manslaughter charges are the most effective way of forcing changes. Fingers crossed it happens.

  32. Jean: Police investigations are going on, but I'm not sure what the lines of enquiry are, and whether they include corporate manslaughter.

  33. What makes me angry is that politicians who would never stay in a hotel without sprinklers for even one night, gave permission to the fire industry to set the rules according to what they thought made business sense - and said it wasn't up to the government to set fire safety regulations to protect the people who "choose" to live in tower blocks. (in this case "choose" to live in them rather than be homeless). It's just a way of directing more to the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable.

  34. Jenny: Exactly, one standard for the elite, and a quite different one for the hoipolloi. And saving money and scrapping so-called red tape has led to the inevitable disaster. I read that New York tower blocks are subject to much stricter building and fire regulations than the ones in the UK.