Haunting last phone call: ‘I can’t breathe’
A MAN who lost his mother and sister in the Grenfell Tower disaster has told of listening to their last agonising moments as they died in the London inferno last year.
Ahmed Elgwahry was standing on a street outside the tower block on June 14 last year while his sister Mariem Elgwahry, 27, and mum Eslah, 64, were trapped near the top. The building was burning out of control and eventually 72 people were killed.
An inquiry into the cause and responses by the fire service is underway in London, and has been attended by grieving - and angry - loved ones of many of the victims.
Mr Elgwahry, 35, told the inquiry a "scared an anxious" Mariem called him to tell him they were trapped by the fire in their apartment on the 22nd floor of the west London building. Even when she was unable to speak, she still managed to communicate with him.
"Despite her suffering, deterioration, and lost of consciousness, Mariem let me know she was still there."
He said she did so by mumbling and banging on the floor.
"She started fading rapidly, but kept going."
Mr Elgwahry paid tribute to his sister who had been a "fighter" all her life.
Soon after he heard his mother's voice.
"About 20 seconds later I heard my Mum. She struggled for breath and said her last words, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe'."
He was grateful to have been able to communicate with them in their final moments and know they weren't alone.
"Mariem could have disconnected the call...[but] we were all together until their last breath."
Mr Elgwahry was furious about what he says were failures by authorities to follow up residents' safety concerns.
'My mum and my sister were murdered and cremated on June 14. They were poisoned by smoke, they were burned, they were cremated.
'I had to listen to them... die. If that's not torture, I'm not sure what is."
He said they died due to "a complete catalogue of failures" which meant they died in "the most horrifying way".
"What is being ignored is the failure to acknowledge the utter incompetence leading up to this preventable tragedy."
Other families at the inquiry stood and applauded when he had finished his evidence.
Mr Elgwahry said it would have been suicidal for firefighters to try and get them from the top floor - but the grieving family of other victims have accused the fire brigade of not doing enough.
The inquiry has heard communications between firefighters in the tower and superiors outside were not working. It has also been told that panicked residents were calling the emergency line and instructed to stay where they were.
Paulos Tekle told the inquiry he would live with the guilt for listening to emergency services. His five-year-old son Isaac died when he was lost in a smoky stairwell. He said he was told repeatedly to "stay put" from when he called at 1am.
Mr Tekle said: "I want the truth. I will not have peace until I have the truth. I want to know why I was physically stopped from leaving the flat at about 2am. Why we were kept inside for so long? I want answers. If I had not listened to the fire brigade my son would have likely been alive today."
The advice from the fire service continued even as neighbours urged them to run. Finally, at 2.45am, they made their escape.
"Every day I ask myself the same question: what if I had not listened and we had left right then and there? [Would] My Isaac would be here today?"
He fought back tears and said: "'I will never forget Isaac's big beautiful eyes, his calm-looking wait for his Dad to save them all. But I didn't, because I listened to the authorities and that makes me angry."
Isaac's body was found on the ninth floor. He was one of the youngest victims of the disaster.
A London Fire Brigade spokesman told The Times they could not discuss details of what occurred that night while the inquiry and police investigation were ongoing.
A spokesman said it was committed to making sure everyone knew "exactly what happened".
The inquiry continues.