Father breaks down at scene of fire
Simpson Cheung, Martin Cheung and Jennifer Lo
The father who survived a deadly blaze in Ma Tau Wai last Wednesday that claimed the lives of his pregnant wife and two young sons broke down while revisiting the scene for the first time since the tragedy.
Lai Hok-man, 55, returned to his home in a wheelchair to mourn his loved ones yesterday afternoon. Wearing a hat and a facemask and dressed in pyjamas provided by the hospital, he at first appeared calm and energetic, despite having both his left hand and left leg swathed in bandages.
But he quickly broke down once he started burning paper offerings and joss sticks.
'Ah Huan, my sons, daddy is here. Rest in peace,' Lai said in a prayer.
His wife Huang Yan-huan, 37, and two sons, aged one and six, perished in the fire at the dilapidated tenement, which also claimed the life of an 18-year-old neighbour.
After offering his prayer, Lai smiled to a group of reporters, waved his hand and said: 'Thank you everyone for your care.' But tears still filled his eyes.
Taoist monks performed the ceremony, which went on for almost an hour. Lai was helped by relatives and social workers.
Doctors approved Lai's visit to the scene of the fire. After the ceremony, he was driven back to the hospital by a friend and did not answer any questions from the media.
Residents, friends and people from all walk of lives also joined to mourn the victims. Among them was a woman who got to know Lai's wife during a recent tour organised by a community centre.
'A few weeks ago we just met on the bus, we chatted and she shared with me the joy of the baby she was expecting, I cannot believe now she had gone all of a sudden,' she said, tearfully.
Another mourner, from Lam Tin, said she did not know Huang but had wanted to join the ceremony after reading about the tragedy in the newspapers. 'Why does her life have to be that tough?' she said after offering joss sticks.
Some residents of the tenement said the owner of a photographic studio on the first floor should be held responsible. The fire broke out in a storage room on the ground floor which belongs to the studio.
'His shop caught fire two years ago. He should not have stored so many miscellaneous articles here any more,' said one resident, Wu Chun-yee.
Fung Kwok-kwong, the owner of Artland Studio, refused to comment.
Alex Wong Kwok-chun, assistant district social welfare officer, said 12 charitably groups had raised HK$300,000 for Lai and another HK$300,000 for the family of Tse Yan-yee, 18, who also died in the fire. Her father and her sister were yesterday in a stable condition at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin.
Meanwhile, 46 survivors were yesterday relocated to Shek Lei transit centre, where they will live for three months. Some of those moved complained of a lack of air-conditioning and an inconvenient location, although most were satisfied.
The search for inexpensive housing was more of a worry. 'Places on the market [in To Kwa Wan] cost HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 [monthly], up from the HK$2,500 I used to pay,' said one man, who lives with his 12-year-old son.
'We have no option but to move back to the flat at Ma Tau Wai after three months here,' said another woman, who lives with her son, three. 'The government should give us priority for public housing.'