14 April 2022

‘It was like coming out of a horror film’ – mother describes escaping Grenfell

14 April 2022

A Grenfell Tower resident has described escaping from the burning building with her three young children as “like coming out of a horror film”.

Mouna El Ogbani bolted down 11 storeys with her husband, Youssef Khalloud, and their children, the youngest of whom was two years old, after a friend phoned them in the early hours of the morning on June 14 2017.

Ms El Ogbani, a Muslim and former domestic violence outreach worker, had lived in the tower since 2006 and grew up in the Kensington area after moving to the UK as a teenager.

Describing her escape route to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Ms El Ogbani said: “It was really horrific.

“When I first opened the door it was thick black smoke.

I thought, that's it, we're late, we're going to die - it was like coming out of a horror film

“I thought, that’s it, we’re late, we’re going to die – it was like coming out of a horror film.”

In a statement seen by the inquiry, Ms El Ogbani said firefighters were in the corridors as her family fled through thick smoke which was “ceiling to floor” and which she could see “zooming up” the exterior once outside.

The family arrived at a local rugby club by 10am, which was providing impromptu shelter for residents, until they were moved to a hotel in Earl’s Court at about midnight.

Ms El Ogbani said living in the hotel was “claustrophobic” and “stressful” because her family were given two small rooms with one bed and one cot for about six weeks, and nowhere to do their laundry.

She said four of them were housed in these conditions, with her son staying at a friend’s home.

Ms El Ogbani said: “It made us really angry, because you don’t know how you’re going to live the next day.

“The food was not great. As a Muslim person, it was not accommodated in the hotel. It wasn’t halal. It was pizza or fish and chips.”

There was no-one to respond to our needs, no-one to tell us what was going on and what will happen

Ms El Ogbani left her job as an outreach worker for the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre in December 2017 after feeling she could no longer cope and being referred by her GP for counselling.

She told the inquiry that after losing everything in the fire she relied on volunteers to feed her children in the absence of help from the Government.

Ms El Ogbani said: “I left literally just with my keys and my phone so we had nothing to survive on.

“We had some charities who supported us with money to get us going.

“We relied a lot on volunteers, we had a volunteer lady who used to bring food to the hotel.

“That’s how we survived, basically on the hand of our community. There was no involvement at all from the Government.

“No-one came to see us, apart from the police, and just to gather information.”

Ms El Ogbani said she became involved with residents’ campaign group Grenfell United due to the lack of official support.

She also criticised the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council as showing “no humanity” towards residents.

She said: “There was no humanity in the way that RBKC dealt with things.

“They did not take into account the specific needs of each family or resident.

“There was no-one to respond to our needs, no-one to tell us what was going on and what will happen.”

Ms El Ogbani added: “We don’t want another Grenfell to happen again.

“We want people to be listened to.

“We want people who are living in social housing, when they complain or make a request for something, to be taken seriously, and to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Fatima Boujettiff and Hanan Cherbika, who lived on surrounding streets and were temporarily homeless following the blaze, also said they received no support from the Government or council.

Ms Cherbika, who lived with her husband and three children on Grenfell Walk, said the area was “like a war zone” on the night of the blaze, with people desperately trying to find out where their loved ones were.

The mother, whose friends died in the fire, added that she struggled to get help from charities because she was not from the tower.

Ms Cherbika was eventually given hotel accommodation, which she said had a “filthy” carpet and “felt like a cage”.

She told the inquiry that the children made homeless from the fire, including her own, were “completely ignored” and she worries about how the experience may have damaged them emotionally.

Ms Boujettiff, a pastoral support officer at Kensington Aldridge Academy who lived on Hurstway Walk with her mother, said she felt “pushed to the side”.

She told the inquiry: “The way it was dealt with was very confusing and shambolic.

“What we experienced, what I experienced, will stay with me forever.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox