'I was terrified … I didn't know what to do'
Fa Yuen Street fire survivor breaks down in tears as she recalls her husband's last words
A woman whose husband died in the 2011 Mong Kok blaze was overcome with emotion in the witness box yesterday as she recounted the last time she saw him alive.
Chan Wan-kiu, wife of the late Wu Jumou, told the Coroner's Court that she was woken at dawn by two loud bangs outside her subdivided flat on the third floor of a building on Fa Yuen Street.
"I was terrified … I didn't know what to do," Chan said. "When I looked out my window, flames and smoke were rising straight from the street."
Chan then closed the window and went to the bathroom to get a wet towel to cover her mouth, she told the inquest.
"When I was in the bathroom, my husband asked me to act fast," she said. "When I came out, I did not see him [alive] again," said the 54-year-old, as she broke down in tears, still visibly distressed by the memory.
Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu stood down the inquest for 10 minutes to give Chan time to calm down.
Chan was rescued from the nine-storey walk-up building by firefighters. Her face, neck and limbs were burnt and she lost a right-hand finger and the sight in her left eye.
She is the only survivor to have testified so far.
Nine people died and 34 were injured in the blaze, which ripped through 192 and 194 Fa Yuen Street early in the morning of November 30, 2011. It started in hawkers' stalls along the market street and was the deadliest fire since the handover.
Meanwhile, residents living in the vicinity of the building gave their accounts of when and how the fire started.
Chan Chi-wai, who has lived on the street all his life, said he was woken at 4.40am by two loud bangs - which he said sounded like "iron poles hitting galvanised iron roofs".
At the time, he was living on the second floor of 179 and 181 Fa Yuen Street - directly opposite the building that was engulfed in flames.
Chan said it seemed like the noises were caused by electricity boxes exploding. He said the stalls next to those in front of the ill-fated building were the first to catch fire, and the flames quickly spread to other stalls.
Sergeant Leung Kwok-pun, one of the police officers who investigated the tragedy, told the court that there were subdivided flats on some floors of the building at 192 and 194 Fa Yuen Street.
Presenting over 100 photos taken at the scene by police officers after the fire, Leung confirmed that not every tenant at the building had access to the back staircase - which connected the seventh floor to an alleyway near Sai Yee Street.
Leung said, for example, that at No192, only tenants of room A on the fourth floor could use the staircase since its entry was located in the room. Occupants of other rooms on that floor could not use it as a fire escape.
The walk-up building also has a staircase running from the main entrance to the rooftop.
The inquest continues today.