Survivors tell of fire terror

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 12:00am


Terrified survivors of yesterday's Ma Tau Wai fire told of their desperation as they tried to flee a building filled with smoke and flames and found escape doors locked.

Christine Kong Mei-wah, 58, a retired banker, was trapped with 13 others on the seventh floor after she found access to the rooftop blocked.

'I think I am really lucky,' said Kong, who lives on the third floor of the tenement building that caught fire in the small hours, killing four people and injuring 19.

'We survived because we did not panic although the smoke was really thick and my throat felt very painful.'

Kong was woken by screaming and smelled heavy smoke in her flat. She woke four other tenants but the front door was too hot to be opened so they took the rear staircase to the top, where they could not unlock the door to the roof. 'Many people were screaming downstairs so we did not dare go down,' she said. 'The staircase was full of rubbish, like bamboo sticks, unused mattresses and flowerpots. It was very difficult to walk. We all needed to take every step very carefully.'

She said the deaths were probably caused by sub-divided rental cubicles that blocked the rear doors in other flats. 'The people from sub-divided rental cubicles could only escape from the front, while we could escape from both ends,' she said.

Kong's flat, which she owns, is not sub-divided but she has rented two rooms to four tenants.

The flat opposite, where a pregnant woman and her two sons died lived, was divided into four small compartments.

A relative of dead victim Huang Yan-huan said Huang was a teacher in Shenzhen who came to Hong Kong five years ago. The family of four was supported by the father, Lai Hok-man, who works as a construction worker. 'The whole family was very optimistic. She was very kind-hearted and his eldest son was very clever and polite,' she said.

Moshan Javud Khan, 11, who lived with his parents and two younger sisters in a cubicle on the fifth floor, said the fire cut off the electricity.

'The air-conditioner suddenly shut down. My mother checked out the machine and yelled 'fire! fire',' he said. 'I thought we were going to die.'

The family covered their mouths with wet towels while they waited for firefighters to take them to the rooftop via the front staircase, where the door to the roof was not locked.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said an anonymous donor had given HK$2,000 to each affected family, while charity Lok Sin Tong had given HK$5,000 to each.

'We have now taken prompt action to provide relief to the victims affected ... we feel very sad that [four] people died in the fire and we will help all the victims financially, in terms of housing or anything we can help [with],' he said during a visit to about 40 homeless survivors temporarily settled in a community centre in To Kwa Wan.

Last night, 26 residents from 12 households had registered for places in a temporary shelter set up by the government with daily necessities provided.

The Social Welfare Department provided them with counselling services.