Survivor of Mong Kok inferno left haunted by his girlfriend's death

Still grieving for his girlfriend, Tse Kai-wan cannot bring himself to go near the area where the fire took her life, says his father

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 5:02am

The horror of losing his girlfriend in the 2011 Mong Kok inferno is still too much for one survivor to bear. He can't go near Fa Yuen Street, or even think about it.

His father, Tse Cheung-kwan, was lucky enough to be working elsewhere when the fire ripped through the market street, killing nine people and injuring 34.

Tse, 67, a retired security guard, lived in the subdivided flat he shared with his son and his girlfriend. "[My son] is still avoiding Fa Yuen Street, even its vicinity," Tse said. "I once asked him to go for yum cha with me at Prince Edward Road West. He turned me down right away."

[My son] is still avoiding Fa Yuen Street, even its vicinity. I once asked him to go for yum cha with me at Prince Edward Road West. He turned me down right away

His son, Tse Kai-wan, 25, is still grieving. His 21-year-old girlfriend Liu Hoi-yin died in the fire that broke out at an open-air market stall at 4.30am on November 30, 2011. He was so traumatised by her death that he did not make any statements to the police. Nor did he testify at an inquest into the nine deaths.

For six months, the young hairdresser had trouble with his vision - damage done as he and Liu tried to escape to the roof of their building via a staircase that had filled with thick smoke. His eyesight returned to normal six months after the fire, but he remains haunted by the memories.

The couple were living with Tse on the fifth floor of 192-194 Fa Yuen Street. The pair had been together for a few years and planned to marry, said the elder Tse. They were asleep in the flat when the fire broke out, while Tse worked the night shift elsewhere.

In the first few months after the fire, Tse's son blamed himself for failing to get Liu out of the building. "He would say, 'I should've held her hand more tightly … I should've held her close'," his father said.

The pair were just two steps away from the rooftop exit when another tenant knocked them over in their rush to escape. Tse lost hold of Liu and couldn't see her in the thick smoke.

Three months after the tragedy, the father and son moved to a public housing flat in Choi Hung. It's twice the size of his old cubicle home, but Tse says he feels uncomfortable living there.

"I was given this flat after nine people died in a fire. How can I be happy with that?" he asked. "It's a comfortable new home, but it's of little comfort."

Unlike many of the other relatives who testified on the second day of the three-week inquest, the elder Tse appeared calm. "But when I'm quiet and alone, I still find it hard to accept what happened," he said. "Why didn't the government do something about the hawkers' stalls after a fire broke out there in 2010?"

He said tougher fire safety rules could have saved lives. "For example, a rule requiring them to take their stock away when they close at night," Tse said, adding the government and CLP Power should have checked electricity meters at the stall that caught fire.