On the night of September 20, a raging inferno blazed through a residential area of the densely-packed capital, causing the death of a 46-year-old woman and displacing more than 700 people. The fire broke out inside a chemical storage warehouse in the Henveiru ward of Malé. The cause and the cost remain unclear but the National Disaster Management Authority on Tuesday released details about the affected households.
Seven residential buildings caught fire on the Abadhah Fehi Magu, a narrow road with a pavement on one side and rows of parked motorbikes and cars. Five other buildings were also damaged.
Two buildings, the Nigaaran and Neighbour houses, were razed to the ground. Military engineers dismantled a metal structure that was on the verge of collapse.
There were warehouses in six buildings (Thilafushi, Martin, Ahmeem, Kalhuhuraage, Kalhuhuraa’age, and Alhura). The fire broke out at the warehouse in Thilafushi and spread to other buildings. Along with Kiev, Neighbour and Nigaaran, all nine buildings were torn down for public safety.
Six buildings (Ivaau, Radhuvaniya, Iranuge, Kalhuhuraa Garden, Kalhuhuraa, and Alpha) were too damaged for residents to return. Five buildings were safe for use but in need of repairs (Adhoo, Nishan Plaza, Keel, Emotion and Gaswa).
Residents have returned to 11 buildings deemed safe after an engineering assessment.
Twenty-six buildings in the neighbourhood with 87 households or apartments were evacuated on the night of the fire.
Of the seven severely damaged buildings, three (Nigaaran, Neighbour and Iranuge) were inhabited by one household each of people who were living in their own homes. Three buildings (Ivaau, Adhoo and Radhuvaniya) included one apartment each for original residents. There were four rented apartments in Ivaau and five rented apartments each in Adhoo and Radhuvaniya. There were 11 rented apartments in the Kalhuhuraa house, whose original residents live elsewhere.
A total of 786 people who sought relief aid were registered with the NDMA, including 450 men and 336 women. Aside from 636 Maldivians, there were 104 Bangladeshis, 19 Indians, 16 Nepalis, six Filipinos, four Sri Lankans and one Egyptian.
Of the 114 children registered by the NDMA, 32 percent were aged 10 to 16, 31 percent were aged one to five, 25 percent were aged five to 10, and 12 percent were between 16 to 18 years of age. The education ministry provided uniforms and booklists to 50 school children.
MVR1.3 million (US$84,300) was donated to the NDMA’s fire relief account as of 4pm on September 30. The private station Raajje TV collected MVR216,474 through a telethon. Many businesses have also been donating to the NDMA fund. A 12-hour music show with more than 200 artists was organised last Thursday as part of ongoing fundraising efforts.
Press Release Statement –
Henveiru Fire Appeal and Donations – https://t.co/vPwubWAwbb
The MRC has received MVR 659,793.41 to help those affected by the fire, to our Emergency Response Fund.
We would like to thank everyone who donated generously! #Heyohithun
— Maldivian Red Crescent (@maldivianrc) September 27, 2019
– Survivor accounts –
Witnesses and residents told local media their accounts of the life-threatening ordeal.
The first explosion jammed the front door of the Radhuvaniya house in the building opposite the warehouse. Aishath Shauna, a Quran teacher who lived in a rented apartment on the third floor, was trapped inside alone and died of severe burns. She was reported missing after she called her brother twice for help.
The house is owned by Aishath Rasheed, wife of former MP Ahmed Rasheed Ibrahim, known as Qari. The couple and their families lived on the first two floors while the upper floors were rented out.
The former MP for Isdhoo was trapped with his wife for over an hour before they were rescued by firefighters. Rasheed told the media that he was getting ready to go to Isha prayer around 7:19pm when his wife shouted “fire” from the sitting room. He rushed out and saw the warehouse on fire, a mere 20 feet away from their building.
The flames rose “unbelievably high,” he recalled. Motorbikes parked in front of the building were ablaze. Within two minutes, the fire spread to the house and electricity went out. Rasheed helped bring down a woman and her three-year-old boy living on the second floor down to their apartment through a ventilation shaft.
They put wet socks over their mouth to breathe through the heavy smoke and waited for help. The group retreated to the bathroom after the sitting room was engulfed in thick black smoke and the furniture melted.
Up on the fourth floor, Asma Saeed and her 15-year-old son Abdulla Yaish Hussain were also trapped inside their bathroom. “Yaish was shouting, we couldn’t see a thing. We could see the flames from above the door that’s why we didn’t try to leave,” she told Avas. “Yai was on the phone with the police. I was also calling anyone I could think of. It was starting to get harder to breathe as smoke was getting inside the building.”
At the time, Yaish’s father was out on the streets pleading with firemen to rescue his family. A reporter from Sun Online who witnessed his frantic actions wrote: “The worried and helpless father repeatedly pleaded with the most senior police officers working on site. But officials kept on saying it would take time to rescue them through the fire that was burning uncontrollably.”
The reporter went on to describe how the father pleaded with Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi when she arrived at the scene. Four firefighters were inside the building to rescue them, she assured him.
Asma told Avas that before she went back she pushed the door open in hopes of making it easier for rescuers. As they waited for help, the mother and son heard someone praying loudly for help from another floor. Shauna lived on the third floor
The pair was finally rescued after two hours. A friend gave firemen directions to her apartment. The fire completely destroyed the building and all their possessions. Her son was due to sit his O’Level exams and lost all his school books and notes to the fire.
A 19-year-old college student living in Kalhuhuraage recounted to Mihaaru how two young men helped them rescue her elderly grandfather. Zeeshan Nasir, a young woman studying laboratory sciences at the Maldives National University, was preparing for a test when she smelled what she thought was gas.
Zeeshan said at the same time she heard a loud explosion and the building shook. She ran out of her room and tried to escape with her grandparents. Three women in the house tried to carry the grandfather but failed. They sought help from neighbours on other floors as they ran downstairs.
“I pleaded with everyone running down to help, that we have a sick person. But no one helped. Two or three older men were among them. Some even came down with their suitcases,” Zeeshan told the newspaper.
The two young men, Hassan Shinan and Hussain Mubeen, told Sun and Raajje TV about how they checked all the apartments for people who needed help as they ran down from the sixth floor. After rescuing several people, including the elderly couple, they were trapped inside and only managed to escape by jumping to the roof of an adjacent buildings. Migrant workers who lived there lay down their mattresses to cushion the fall, the young men recalled.