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Remembering Grenfell, iconic landmarks glow green as Queen and Meghan join tributes
LONDON — The pain, the grief, the anger — a year after the Grenfell fire disaster, emotions are still raw as people struggle to come to terms with the deadliest fire in modern British history.
On Thursday, Britons marked the one-year anniversary of the tragedy with 72 seconds of silence across the nation, one to represent each person who died. Survivors and the bereaved observed the silence at the foot Grenfell Tower, where a new mosaic was unveiled. Queen Elizabeth II and her new daughter-in-law, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, also took part in the national silence during an outing together in the northwest of England.
Overnight, starting at 12.54 a.m., exactly when the first call was made to the emergency dispatch service, Grenfell Tower was floodlit green. It was among several landmarks across the country — including the London Eye and 10 Downing Street — that were lit up green, the color adopted by survivors to symbolize Grenfell. On Friday, school children across the country will also wear green in remembrance.
On June 14, 2017, a fire broke out in the kitchen of a fourth floor apartment in Grenfell Tower, a 24-story public housing block in North Kensington. The fire spread fast — alarmingly fast — leading to questions about the recent refurbishment of the building and in particular the plastic and aluminum cladding panels, which many believe caused the fire to crawl up the building with ferocious speed.
The fire came to symbolize the glaring gaps of inequality in London, the stark divide between the haves and have nots. It raised awkward questions: Was Britain looking after its most vulnerable? Were the repeated concerns from Grenfell residents about dangerous living conditions ignored because they weren’t coming from the rich and powerful, like those who lived just a few blocks away?
British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the initial response from the government and local authority “wasn’t good enough,” and personally apologized for not meeting survivors and residents immediately after the fire.
“I am sorry for not having met them then,” she said in an interview this week with Grenfell Speaks, a social media channel. “I regret that because I think people perhaps felt that they wanted those of us in power to know that we had understood and recognized what had happened, and perhaps felt that not meeting them immediately meant that I didn’t care, and that was never the case.”
The aftermath has been difficult for many — for the survivors, the bereaved, the neighborhood residents — who call the ethnically-diverse area of North Kensington home. A year on, less than half of the households from Grenfell Tower are in permanent housing — 43 households are still living in hotels.
A stroll around the neighborhood is one haunting reminder after another of that heartbreaking night. There is the tower, a charred ruin recently covered in white sheeting with a banner on the top floors featuring a green Grenfell heart. There are tribute walls filled with messages voicing anger and sorrow. Flowers and rain-soaked teddy bears are tied to railings. Banners that read “Justice for Grenfell” hang from apartment balconies.
Like many locals, Samia Badani can vividly remember that tragic night. The balcony on her low-rise brick building faces Grenfell Tower. “We heard children screaming, saw people jumping, the people from higher floors could look down and see us. It was really difficult,” she said.
And it’s not easily forgotten.
“People say, ‘I can’t understand why local people are still stressed.’ We’re not stressed, we are traumatized,” she said. As chair of a local residents’ association, she has been campaigning for support for local residents. “There is an expectation we have to go and beg for services,” she said.
She was one of many locals to take part in the various memorial services around west London.
A service of remembrance was held at St. Helen’s church where the names of all 72 victims were read out.
In the evening, the Al-Manaar mosque will host special prayers and has invited the community to join for an evening meal with those fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Also on Thursday evening, a silent walk will take place through the streets around the tower. Every month since the fire, on June 14, hundreds walk through the streets in silence in an eerie-yet-powerful display of solidarity and remembrance.
Zeyad Cred, one of the organizers of the walk, spoke about the first silent walk in “Grenfell,” a documentary aired this week on BBC. “In the midst of all the despair, that silence just neutralized everyone and we walked through the streets that felt like a warzone in peace and in silence and it was so empowering,” he said.
The government-backed public inquiry into the fire, which has already revealed a litany of failures, has paused for a week out of respect for the anniversary.
Apsny News English