Grenfell survivor tells how she found escape route by chance while stumbling over bodies in smoke-clogged corridor
'I truly believed I was going to die,' says 10th floor resident
A survivor of the Grenfell Tower fire has recalled falling over bodies as she scrambled down a smoke-logged corridor to escape the burning high-rise.
In a harrowing witness statement submitted to the public inquiry into the blaze, 10th-floor resident Nagwa Prossy Nalukwago said she eventually discovered an escape route when she happened to fall on to a door.
Ms Nalukwago, 41, who moved into Grenfell Tower four months before the fire, had always used the lifts and did not know where the building’s single staircase was.
She told the inquiry she woke on the 14 June 2017 to discover “flames shooting up the side of the building above my head”.
The blaze “was moving really fast, as if petrol was being poured on it”, Ms Nalukwago said.
The fire then entered the sitting room and started “shooting up the window” behind their television.
“The fire had two colours: a green (which I can still picture vividly in my head) and a normal fire colour of orange,” she recalled.
“The fire was making a very loud cracking sound like breaking glass. It was absolutely terrifying.”
Ms Nalukwago phoned her housemate, who was out on the night of the fire, for directions to the staircase. But, in her panicked state, she could not understand her, she said.
“I truly believed I was going to die,” she said. “I wanted to call my family to say goodbye.”
Ms Nalukwago, who is originally from Uganda, called a close friend who she refers to as “aunty”.
“I told aunty I was going to die in the flat,” she said.
“I had gone in the kitchen by the window and I told her I was going to jump. She was talking to me trying to make me calm down. She told me I had to get out.”
Ms Nalukwago covered herself in a wet duvet and tucked her telephone into her waistband, while still on the phone to her friend.
“I opened the door from the flat to the landing,” she continued.
“I could not see a thing. It was completely dark with very thick black smoke.
“I felt like I was sucking in too much smoke, it was choking me. I stepped forward out of the flat and almost immediately fell over what I thought was a body on the ground.
“I stood up and moved and almost immediately fell on what felt like a second body.
“It was horrific. I got up and said to aunty: ‘I am going back to the flat to die’. I tried, but I did not know which way I was going. I was very disorientated.
“I kept crying ‘I am going to die’. My aunty kept saying ‘No, get out’.”
Ms Nalukwago went on: “I fell again over what I thought was a body. I totally lost it.
“I couldn’t talk any more, I had swallowed too much smoke. I could hear my aunty screaming for help.”
She then fell over a victim of the fire.
“I fell lengthways along the body and felt my head hit something hard,” she said.
“It was a door and it opened slightly with the force of my head hitting it.
“I could see a bit of light: it was the fire door exit onto the stairwell.”
Ms Nalukwago said she fell through the door then “stumbled” down 10 flights of stairs to ground level.
When she reached outside, she was greeted by “complete chaos”, she said.
“I could see someone in a window in the 23rd floor. I had to look away because I knew they would not make it.”
The inquiry also heard from another 10th floor resident on Wednesday who said she received received “bewildering” mixed messages about whether she and her family should evacuate their flat.
Ann Chance, who lived with her mother, two aunts and cousin, spent more than an hour trapped in their flat.
She called 999 several times over the course of the night and was told to stop smoke getting into the flat with towels.
But, during another call, the operator “seemed to suggest” they try going downstairs.
In her call to the emergency room at at 2.57am, she spoke to an operator called Mitch who told her to stay in the room furthest away from the fire.
This phone call came just minutes after the fire brigade’s “stay put” policy was officially abandoned.
In her written statement to the public inquiry, Ms Chance said: “I remember my aunt and cousin being on the phone to emergency services around the same time and they were being told they had to evacuate.
“This was really bewildering and so I told Mitch that I did not understand why he was advising me to stay put but somebody else was telling my aunt to evacuate.
“Mitch said if it was safe to evacuate then we should, but I told him it was not safe because the door handle was too hot and there was too much smoke.
“I was really scared the fire was close and that we did not know exactly where it might be throughout the building.
“He said that if we could safely get to a stairwell then we should. I told him I was worried that the fire could be anywhere in the stairwell.
“I asked him if he could tell me where the fire was but he was unable to do so.”
Around 80 minutes after she called 999, firefighters made it to their flat and guided them to safety.
The Grenfell Tower probe is hearing evidence from survivors of the fire, which killed 72 people, at Holborn Bars in central London.