JOE Delaney watched people plummet from the top floors of Grenfell Tower on the night it burnt, after desperately trying to alert sleeping residents who had no idea their home was on fire.
He heard their petrified screams as flames tore through the high rise in West London – but now he wonders if he did the right thing at all.
“I’m haunted by those actions now,” he tells The Sun Online, explaining that he pelted windows with bottles and rubbish.
“Personally if it were me trapped inside that building and I’d been asleep, I’d rather had been left to sleep and to die of smoke inhalation than to wake up and die in terror.
“All you could really hear was people screaming for help. I don’t know if any of those people we woke up managed to escape.”
Two years on from the devastating fire which tore through Grenfell Tower, killing 72 people and injuring 70 more, many residents are still struggling to come to terms with what happened.
As well as dealing with the emotional impact, many still haven’t been rehoused.
Out of the 201 households evacuated from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk – a low-rise block of flats attached to the base of the tower – 184 have now moved into a permanent home. But one is still in a hotel, two are in serviced apartments and 14 are in temporary accommodation.
There were 129 families who had to be relocated from the wider estate, and 47 of those are still in temporary accommodation.
'The body was spinning as it hurtled to the ground'
Joe is one of those who have been left struggling, both in dealing with what he saw that night and more practically.
He was evacuated from another part of the estate and stood in front of Grenfell as the blaze – which took 200 firefighters more than 24 hours to extinguish – took hold.
“Within 30 minutes of the fire starting, it was clear to me that this was serious and that people were definitely going to die,” he says.
“I saw people falling or jumping from the upper floors of the tower; the outline of their bodies were clearly visible.
“One of them hit the side of the tower as they fell and this caused them to spin as they dropped; it was nothing like you see in a film, this was brutal as they repeatedly hit the side of the building.”
Emma O’Connor, 30, is disabled and was on the 20th floor of Grenfell on June 14 2017.
She saw the flames getting bigger out of her window and managed to escape using the lift – she knew there was no way she would make it out using the stairs because of her arthritis.
Emma and her partner made it to the third floor, when the lift stopped.
'I still get chills'
“I went into shock and started crying after getting out because we noticed the fire climbing the building quickly,” she says.
“We were so lucky to get out when we did.
“I still get chills down my spine when I remember what happened especially when I hear people talking about how the dead can’t speak for themselves.
“There were dead bodies stored in the walkways [low-rise areas] of the estate for days afterwards.
“I feel sorry for the residents who weren’t evacuated and had to live with that.
“I’ve since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Now even getting into lifts and the sound of sirens triggers me into having panic attacks.”
That night is still vivid for Joe, who continues to struggle with what he went through.
“I was shaken by what I saw; wherever I am in this area, I have trained myself to avoid looking at the Tower. On the rare occasions when I do see it, I still get a wrench in my stomach,” he said.
“The noise was incredibly loud, it was the cladding literally exploding off the sides of the building as it heated up.”
Cladding in question
The fire was caused by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor, but quickly spread upwards – attributed to the cladding, which has since been removed from other high rises around the country.
It had been fitted to Grenfell Tower in May 2016 as part of a refurbishment, but just two months before London Fire Brigade had warned all 33 councils in the capital about the risks of highly flammable cladding on tower blocks.
This is why Grenfell resident Mahad Egal, 32, who lived on the fourth floor, was so horrified with the new property his family was initially offered.
“We rejected the property when it was found to have cladding like Grenfell,” he says.
Mahad claims that when he asked for information about the cladding and its composition, he was told that there was nothing to worry about, but Kensington and Chelsea later admitted they didn’t know what the material was.
A council spokesperson insists those affected by the fire were given priority in being rehoused, but didn’t comment on the cladding issue.
Government figures released earlier this year showed four out of five tower blocks wrapped in the dangerous cladding are yet to have it removed.
And Mahad’s family is far from the only one to experience such problems.
“There are issues with the housing that’s been on offer,” Nour-eddine Aboudihaj, the founder of Grenfell Trust, a charitable organisation that supports survivors and bereaved says.
“Some have had flooding and are not fit for habitation and some have access issues for older or disabled people.”
Although Joe does have a property he is happy with – on the ground floor, as he can no longer cope with living in a high rise – there are other issues.
“I’d like to make it my permanent home but I was promised by the Council a like-for-like tenancy and they have slowly reneged on this agreement,” he says.
“Now they are not willing to meet the pledge that rent would be no higher than it was at my old place nor would other rights related to length of tenure be protected.”
A Council spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on Joe’s case individually.
Emma felt pressured into accepting her current flat even though it’s not right for her.
She’s had problems with flooding and when her health forced her to call an ambulance, it couldn’t get access to her – although a Peabody Housing Association spokesperson refuted this.
There has been a knock-on effect for others who need housing too.
“With Grenfell evacuees needing to rehoused first, it’s meant that other households classified as statutory homeless have had to wait much longer to get permanent housing,” a staff member at Curve, a council-funded trauma response centre, said.
“We’re seeing more people suffering from anxiety and depression as a result. Sometimes we get five or six new cases per day, needing housing advise or support.”
When contacted for comment, a Government spokesperson said: “Everyone from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk has a permanent home reserved for them and 92 percent have moved in.
“The council has spent £235 million to secure over 300 homes for those affected.
“We are continuing to support the council in rehousing survivors sensitively and we expect them to do whatever is necessary to ensure people can move into settled homes as swiftly as possible.”
But for Emma, the stress of being rehoused has only made an impossible situation even worse.
“I feel trapped here, it’s making my anxiety 100 times worse,” she says.
“We’re putting in for a move but I don’t want to be rushed by the Council again. I want to take my time and get it right.”
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