Owner was warned, says witness in Mong Kok blaze inquest

Survivor of Fa Yuen Street fire complained about illegal rooftop wall blocking the escape route

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 3:45am

A tenant complained when he saw the owner building a concrete wall blocking access to a fire escape route, the Mong Kok inferno inquest heard yesterday.

The building, at 192-194 Fa Yuen Street, was engulfed in the conflagration that killed nine people in November 2011.

Chan Ho-cheung, a clerk who survived the deadly blaze, told the Coroner's Court that he told the rooftop's owner "people must surely die when fire breaks out" if the wall was built dividing the roof into two parts.

"[The rooftop] is one of the escape routes if a fire takes place," Chan explained yesterday.

The owner built three illegal units on one side of the rooftop and built the wall between it and the other half, which stayed open as a tenants' refuge in the event of a fire. Yet the gate in the new concrete wall was often locked from the far side, blocking the escape route, the inquest heard.

Saleslady Sung Jjhuiha, one of the rooftop tenants, said she often found the gate locked and she had to climb over the wall to unlock the bolt on the far side.

"The gate was often locked. It was us [rooftop tenants] who went to open it [from time to time]," she said.

On the night of the fire, she said, the gate was not locked and she saw tenants come up the stairs and flee to the rooftop.

As for Chan, firefighters rescued him and his family from their sixth-floor flat.

Some tenants were unaware that the building had a back staircase connecting the seventh floor and an alleyway near Sai Yee Street, they said yesterday.

Choi Wai-ling, who was living in Room A on the seventh floor, said she did not know about the staircase at the time of the fire. She later learned that its entrance was located in Room D, and was accessible only to that room's tenants. Police Sergeant Leung Kwok-pun earlier confirmed in court that not every tenant could access the back staircase because of the building's subdivisions.

Choi said heavy black smoke prevented her and her boyfriend from leaving their room, where they remained until firefighters reached them. The last group of survivors, including the boyfriends of deceased Cheung Chi-mei and Pang Mei-kuen, are to give their testimonies today before coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu and the five-member jury.