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human face of tragedy.

SHARJAH A fire is never pleasant, especially when you lie in its path. That's what hundreds of horrified Al Tayer Tower residents in Sharjah faced when the pre-dawn fire struck on Saturday.

The three-hour blaze damaged 102 out of the tower's 400 units. Thankfully, all tenants escaped unscathed. But as the human cost of the tragedy began to unfold, victims recounted to XPRESS the shock and horror of running for their lives. Some are facing post-event trauma. And every resident has a story to tell:

Asya Mohammad Firoz46, Indian

As the residents ran for their lives, around 2.30am on Saturday, my 19-year-old daughter and 50-year-old husband and myself had to carry my 67-year-old mother down 32 flights of stairs. She has a bone problem and can't walk far. Other than our passports, we couldn't save anything else.

Police accompanied me to our flat (No 2609) on Tuesday. There was nothing but ashes - about Dh100,000 worth of belongings, including 85 grams of gold, clothes, furniture and appliances were charred inside our two-bedroom flat.

Naleef Fahurudeen36, Sri Lankan

Just two weeks earlier, my wife had a C-section delivery of our new baby. She had a miscarriage at 8-1/2 months and she was still in pain. We had to walk 32 floors down - yet we couldn't rush. But after we walked down the first 14 floors, people started to feel the heat and smell the burnt material, and panic set in. People were crying, shouting. There was a huge crowd for another 22 floors. The stairway was jammed with people.

Falling debris damaged my car parked downstairs. My friends generously gave us temporary shelter. I was allowed back into the building on Sunday night, with three friends to retrieve our things. Except for trash in the balcony and near the windows, my flat was intact, though the neighbouring units were completely gutted.

Francis Andal37, Filipino

All of us will have to find some place to live. There's a huge number of fellow Filipinos in the building. We're currently living with friends in the area. I'm unable to work because all our clothes are still inside the building. I have not received my salary, but it's good to have generous friends. We've been told we can stay in a hotel, but we must pay out of our own pocket and will be reimbursed later, up to Dh300 per day. The smell of burnt plastic is still there. I'm angry and frustrated about the way we've been treated after the fire. It took some time for us to be allowed back into our units. There's not much help we got, except for kubos (Arabic bread) and water.

Ajay Kumar42, Indian

The situation in the stairway on the last few floors was really bad as the foul smell of burnt material seeped in. There was so much pushing and shoving as I held our three-month-old baby close to me. If someone had pushed me and I toppled over, it would have been tragic. Many were crying and people were screaming at others to just rush out of the building. We were one of the first families to reach the ground.

This incident has caused so much physical strain and emotional strain for me and my family. If not for my friends, things would have been pathetic for us. They gave us food and lent us money to buy essential items. Whatever money I had in my wallet was gone the next morning because I had to buy food and clothes for my family and myself. My company gave me enough time to settle down, so that helped. I reported to work on Tuesday. My wife and son are now both terrified of living in a high-rise because of what happened.

Adam Henaui39, Syrian

The fire alarm system in the building couldn't be trusted. I was asleep like most people when the alarm went off. Everyday before this incident, there would be false alarms in the building. So when I was awakened by the alarm early on Saturday, I tried to go back to sleep. But it rang for about an hour before I took notice. I rushed to the fire exit and the situation inside stairwell was terrifying - I saw the faces of horror on both young and old people. Luckily, my elderly parents left Dubai two weeks ago. Thank God they did not have to go through this nightmare as they are ailing and could not have walked down 33 floors. On Monday, police allowed us to retrieve some clothes and necessities. I haven't had sleep in the last three nights. I met with a car accident the other day, too. Nothing good has happened this week. But thank God I'm alive.

Kamram Mohammad35, Indian

The fire took place just a few days after I just signed a new tenancy contract with the building owner. I travel often as part of my job and had just returned the night before the fire broke out. My wife was also not feeling well and we slept early on Friday night.

"I actually woke up at 4am on Saturday when the lights went out. I thought it was a small fire. I called the security supervisor who told me "the whole building was on fire."

I immediately woke up our four-year-old son and we ran 18 floors down. Thankfully, nothing was damaged in my flat. I was worried about our love birds - Chunnu and Munnu - whom we left behind. I thought they might die of hunger. When I came back three days later, I realised a policeman or firefighter gave them some food to eat. The birds chirped happily as soon as they saw me.

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Publication:XPRESS (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 3, 2012
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