GRENFELL Tower, the 24-storey block of flats, which was engulfed by fire a few nights ago, is not an unfamiliar sight to me. It is one of the high-rise buildings in North Kensington, west London, that would greet me on the way to central London on the A40, close to the Westfield Shopping Complex in Shepherds Bush.
Now, it stands hauntingly charred against the summer blue sky, a grim reminder of what happened during the early hours of Wednesday morning that had destroyed lives.
It holds untold stories of the panic and chaos as residents scrambled to escape, some jumping from their high-rise flats, some losing family members in the thick black smoke and some staying put, unable to leave because they were disabled.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, many harrowing stories have emerged from the blaze that has now taken 30 lives, injuring many of the almost 600 residents of the building and affecting many others nearby.
Yesterday, tears of sorrow, sadness and grief gave way to anger on the streets here as Londoners carrying placards calling for “Justice for Grenfell” urged for an enquiry into a tragedy that could have been avoided. There were shouts for Theresa May, the British prime minister, and her badly-shaken Tory party after the recent general election, to step down for failure to ensure the safety of residents in one of the richest areas here.
The angry mob had walked from Kensington Town Hall, which they occupied briefly, through Notting Hill and to the Notting Hill Methodist Church opposite the charred block.
What surfaced was talk of class, race and colour; of the blue eyed, white-skinned police in riot gear behind the thin blue line and the charred bodies of immigrants still in the burnt building, of poverty and wealth that sit uncomfortably in one of the richest areas here.
“Had this happened to a luxury block of flats of white-skinned people, would it be allowed to come to this?” screamed one protester, pointing to the tower, after allegations that warnings of fire risks to the building by the residents association were ignored. There were neither sprinklers nor fire alarms but only one emergency staircase, which was consumed by the fire within minutes.
The building, which was built in 1974, was newly refurbished — fire experts had spoken of wrong and cheap materials being used that could have contributed to the speed with which the fire raged through the building with residents, mostly from Morocco, Sudan, Syria, the Philippines and the Middle East.
A high percentage of the residents were Muslims. Indeed, many were up having their sahur when they heard explosions and screams.
“I was having sahur with my father when I heard lots of shouting and explosions,” said Sufiah, a Moroccan lady of mixed parentage, living in a block of flats nearby.
“We rushed out. Together, we shouted for everyone to get up and leave. I saw a group of Muslim brothers who had just returned from tarawih prayers, entering the flats, getting people out,” added Sufiah, who was badly shaken by the screams of anguish and desperation she heard that night.
When news emerged about Muslims saving lives, there was some retort: what has this got to do with religion?
“When the attacks in Manchester, on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge occurred, they were quick to play the religious card — Muslims are terrorists. When Muslim brothers helped to alert residents, thus saving lives, they say what has that got to do with religion,” said a brother, his voice hoarse from shouting and from a long day of fasting.
There was a sense of being let down, of being discriminated against.
But there was also a sense of the community spirit coming from people of various backgrounds reaching out to help each other. Within hours of the tragedy, nearby St Clements Church and the Notting Hill Methodist Church were full of residents dislocated by the fire. Not too far away in Ladbroke Grove, people were sorting out clothes, baby food, sanitary pads and baby napkins.
While I tried hard not to break down, the sight of young hijabi women passing on boxes in a human chain to Sikh brothers and Christian sisters opened the floodgates.
People were so quick to offer anything — clothes, food, their two pair of hands to mop the floor and throw away empty boxes.
Yesterday, on the third day after the blaze, the community centres were turning away donations of clothes and food.
For now, what is needed is counselling for those who have lost their loved ones, their worldly possessions after having had to flee with the clothes on their back.
Pictures of those missing are posted everywhere — on walls, phone booths and railings; smiling pictures of children on the T-shirts of volunteers, on their cars parked on the street waiting for their missing owners.
Flowers, candles and toys are left by church entrances, a wall of remembrance is now full of messages of love.
But one image will haunt me forever; that of a young mother with her mobile phone, showing the picture of her 5-year-old son.
In the chaos, she had asked a neighbour to hold his hands, while she went looking for her other children. In the thick smoke that filled the only emergency staircase, the boy went missing.