Father's darkest day: I knew it was her

As he ran upstairs to escape the flames, his youngest child in his arms, he heard a scream he would never forget, inquest into blaze hears

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2013, 4:52am

The father of a teenage girl who died in the Ma Tau Wai Road fire two years ago said yesterday he would never forget his daughter's scream.

Tse Chor-suen told the Coroner's Court that as he fled upstairs carrying his then five-year-old younger daughter in his arms, with his older daughter Summer Tse Yan-yee, 18, following, someone coming down the stairs banged into them.

It was too smoky for him to identify who it was but he felt Summer push him in the back to help him keep his balance.

He kept running upstairs and entered a unit with the five-year-old, but he did not know where the older daughter was.

"I heard someone scream. I knew it was my older daughter," Tse said, choked with sobs. "I knew she was somewhere suffering. [Her scream] was loud but I could only kneel on the floor not knowing what to do."

Tse, who lived with his family in a subdivided flat on the first floor of 113 Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan, said he did not know the building had a back staircase as he only ever used the front stairs. Investigators have said the rear staircase, which could have served as a fire escape, was blocked by subdivisions.

Fireman Leung Ho-pun told the inquest he and his colleague Tsang Kam-wah found Summer on the fifth-floor stairs, lying under pieces of wood and a mop.

"She was still breathing at that time, with her eyes open," Leung said. She was later declared dead at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Firemen told the court that the blaze, which broke out in the 54-year-old tenement at 111-113 Ma Tau Wai Road at about 3am on June 15, 2011, had started in two places - in a stall under the stairs on the ground floor and on the front stairs between the first and second floors.

It quickly blocked the front staircase, trapping residents inside. The stall belonged to a photo studio on the first floor and was used by the owner to store billboards and other items. Before finding Summer, Leung said they found a burnt body holding a baby, which was also burnt, at the doorway of a subdivided flat on the second floor.

On the stairs going up to the third floor, they discovered a burnt, child-sized body lying face up. They were all from the Lai family - 37-year-old pregnant woman Huang Jianhuan and two boys, Lai Chun-hin, six, and Lai Chun-tak, 16 months, who had lived in a subdivided unit on the third floor of 113 Ma Tau Wai Road.

Lai Hok-man, the family's father and sole survivor, said that when the fire broke out, his wife, Huang, told him about it and escaped with the younger son first. He had opened the door to flee with the six-year-old when he heard someone tell him to turn off the lights. He went to do so but fell unconscious because of the heavy smoke. "When I woke up I was in hospital already."

He also said he knew only of a front staircase.

Sixteen witnesses testified yesterday and the inquest continues today.