A year later, survivors of London's Grenfell Tower fire try to cope

One year later, Grenfell Tower survivors still cope with the grief.

June 13, 2018, 3:25 PM

LONDON -- Omar Alhaj Ali recently had a dream about his brother Mohammad, who died in last year’s fire in London's Grenfell Tower apartment complex where they both lived.

In the dream, Mohammad told him, ‘don’t worry, everything will be fine. The family will be good. Your life will be good.’

“That was the best dream, you know,” Alhaj Ali told ABC News.

One year after the high rise tower fire, which killed 72 people, survivors are still coping with the grief.

Alhaj Ali, who escaped from the 14th floor but lost his brother Mohammad on the way out, said he has regular nightmares about the blaze - which broke out before 1 a.m. on June 14, 2017. He remembers the sounds from that night - the shouting, the panic - and how the fire inched closer and closer to him and his brother.

“When I wake up I feel like I want to cry and then I try to control myself -- because I feel I miss him a lot,” he said. “I straight away go to visit his graveyard and to pray for him because whenever he comes to my dream I feel like maybe he misses me and I have to visit him.”

Omar Alhaj Ali and Mahmoud Alkarad look at a memorial for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Lena Masri/ABC News

Alhaj Ali and his late brother escaped the war in their home country of Syria and moved to the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 2014. They moved into an apartment in Grenfell Tower with their childhood friend Mahmoud Alkarad less than a year before the fire.

“It’s a hard feeling to survive by myself without my brother,” said Alhaj Ali. “Why? You know, why that happened? Sometimes I say God wanted that to happen. Maybe to be with my family or maybe I survived to talk to everyone about Mohammad so everyone can know who he was.

"Maybe if I passed away with him, maybe no one will hear about him or maybe no one will support the family.“

Alhaj Ali’s parents and sisters from Syria moved to the U.K. after Mohammad’s death. They are still staying at a hotel and Alhaj Ali lives with them there, even though he signed a lease for a new apartment about five months ago, he said. He also said he doesn’t want to leave them alone at the hotel and that he likes being with his family.

Omar Alhaj Ali and Mahmoud Alkarad walk near a memorial for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Lena Masri/ABC News

“When I come here I feel more alone,” he said during an interview in his apartment in west London. “I used to live with my brother and friend but when I come here, there’s no one, only me. So that’s why I feel spending more time with the family makes me feel better.”

A criminal police investigation is ongoing as well as a public inquiry examining the cause of the Grenfell Tower fire. In the first stage of the inquiry, relatives spoke about their loved ones who died in the fire. Alhaj Ali, his family and Alkarad participated.

“It was sad to talk about what happened and about Mohammad,” Alkarad, who wasn't home at the time of the fire, told ABC News. “I feel very sad and angry as well because it’s not his fault. It’s something crazy. You hear people talking about how they lost two, three or four, some lost five members of their family.”

After he escaped from the war in Syria, Alkarad said he felt safe in the U.K. Now, he said, he feels like bad things follow him. He often can’t sleep because he thinks about his friend who died and about what might happen in the future. He recently spoke to a friend from Syria who didn’t know that he had lived in Grenfell Tower and lost a friend in the fire.

Grenfell Tower is pictured in London on June 22, 2017, after a fire killed 71 people.
AFP/Getty Images, FILE

“He said ‘you moved from your country and...how many buildings in the U.K? It’s your building? It’s unbelievable that it happened to you.’ Every time you run from terrible things, it follows you,” said Alkarad.

After the fire, he lived in a hotel, but now he lives in an apartment in west London. He lost everything in the fire, but has purchased a few things that his friend Mohammad had purchased: tea cups and a briefcase. He also goes to the restaurant Mohammad used to like and buys the chips his friend used to eat.

When the fire alarm goes off in Alkarad's building, he panics, he said. Sometimes when he takes the bus or the train he feels scared that it will crash.

He said that when he thinks about Grenfell Tower, his heart starts beating fast, that he has trouble focusing on work or studies and that he worries about his future. In Syria, he was a professional handball player. Since the fire, he has only played once, but he said he hopes to go back to the sport in the future.

“I hope I can study again and play sport and I was thinking about creating a handball team,” he said. “I could be a coach here and try to create young or junior team and build them until they are, you know, in the super league.”

But as long as the police investigation and public inquiry is ongoing he is not going to be able to find rest or move on with his life, he said. He keeps reading news updates about them and it reminds him of the fire.

“People won’t feel okay until they hear the truth,” he said. “And If there’s a person or a group or some people involved in the fire, they could go to jail, and people won’t be happy, but at least they get justice.”

A sign in support of the victims of the Grenfell fire covers Grenfell Tower near Ladbroke Grove, west London on June 13, 2018.
Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Experts who have investigated Grenfell Tower as part of the public inquiry have found that there were safety issues with elevators, ventilation systems and doors in the 25-story building, and that cladding that had been fitted to the building as part of a refurbishment helped the fire spread quickly.

The experts also found that the fire department’s advice to residents to stay in their apartments failed.

“The negligence that happened and how they ignored people that night of the fire, the quality of the building, the health of safety of the building, it wasn’t right,” said Alhaj Ali. “Hopefully we will have the justice and truth one day.”

He said he no longer knows what he dreams about.

“Now everything I dreamed about has been changed,” he said. “I used to dream about being together with all members of the family. Now we’re trying to move but still every time we remember him, every time we feel that there is a gap.

"It cannot be like before," he continued. "The only thing I’m dreaming about now is that my family will be okay and that they can feel more settled and that we can be together, sharing our grief together, moving forward together.”

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