Grenfell Tower fire: Survivor still 'drives home' to the 'vertical village' five years after the blaze

·3-min read

A survivor of the Grenfell disaster says she has moments when she forgets what happened and finds herself "driving towards the tower".

"And I'm like, oh my God, where are you going? You don't live there anymore," Hanan Wahabi says.

Flames ripped through the structure five years ago on Tuesday killing 72 people, including 18 children, in the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War.

Hanan misses "everything" about her former home.

"It was, like some people say, a vertical village," she explains. "Now it just feels very lonely. Time is not a healer."

Hanan lived on the ninth floor of the west London landmark for 15 years, raising her two children there - Zak, who is now 21, and 13-year-old Sara.

They survived the fire but Hanan's brother and his family did not.

Abdulaziz, a hospital porter, and his wife, Faouzia, lived on the 21st floor in flat 182 with their three children, Yasin, 20, Nur Huda, 15, and eight-year-old Mehdi.

"They were such a loving family," Hanan says. "There was a lot of laughter, a lot of dry humour in that household."

While the fire destroyed most family photographs, Hanan has a few things left from her flat and from her brother's.

Some of her sister-in-law's Moroccan ceramics were saved from the ashes and now live in Hanan's kitchen, carefully wrapped in cling film.

She cherishes them but nothing compares to a chain that belonged to her brother.

"He was wearing this the night he died," Hanan says, opening the black jewellery box she keeps it in. She stores it next to her in her bedroom to keep it close.

"It is so special to have it. You can see where it burnt a bit in the fire."

Immediately after the disaster, Hanan and her family were housed in a Premier Inn nearby, sharing one room for 18 months.

It had a "major impact", she says.

"The PTSD kicked in quickly. I just remember as a parent you want to protect your children from seeing your difficulties and your challenges.

"There was no protecting them there. I just remember collapsing constantly. I got to the point where I would lock myself in the bathroom just so my children couldn't see, but they could still hear."

Hanan has been rehoused in the area but not close enough to see the tower.

"I'm happy to have a roof over my head but Grenfell was my home," she says. "I still think of it as my home."

Last year, Hanan had to leave the teaching job she had for almost 20 years after her panic attacks and anxiety got too much.

"I am not the person I was before Grenfell. In September 2017, even though my family hadn't all been found at that point, I went back to work - not because I could perform my job adequately but that was the only place that was the same for me. That's my safe place.

"But sometimes I would struggle - when I heard fire alarms, for example, I would collapse in front of children."

While an ongoing public inquiry has uncovered a litany of errors, failures, and corporate complacency, not one person has been charged with a crime.

Hanan says her trauma has been compounded by the shocking testimony at the hearings - and by the fact that no one has been held accountable.

"It's the unknown. Our whole lives have been thrown up in the air and we have seen little change," she says.

"We may smile, we may laugh, we may joke but the only way we do that is to whack plasters on every single hole.

"We have wounds that are massive. We cover them but we can only do that for a brief period and then when those doors are closed, (when) you don't see us, we are broken."

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