Fire victims struggle to find answers and aid

Deena Douara
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Victims of the Qalet Al Kabsh fire that consumed 300 makeshift homes and dislocated a reported 350 families on Tuesday are livid about the way the government has been treating them, and about reports in state run newspapers which they say are incorrect.

“Please just write what is really going on. What has been written is not true, pleaded Fatma Abdullah.

On Thursday police fired tear gas canisters into homes after a dispute erupted near the site of the fire.

Some of the families hit by the tear gas claimed they were far from the melee and did not know why the security forces were attacking them. Some of them claimed the government wanted to silence their demands for alternative housing.

“Do we have to wait until our homes burn down to get decent housing?

Many of the residents say they have been there for 40 or 50 years, since the era of President Abdel-Nasser.

While the press reported that Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif allocated 300 apartments to families whose homes were destroyed in the fire, many families at the scene of the fire say they were not promised homes or compensation.

Some residents with contracts proving ownership of their homes could be seen Thursday moving what survived of their furniture to their new housing units in Nahda, on the Cairo-Ismalia road, but even they say the number of families to be relocated appeared to be far fewer than 100.

In the meantime residents have been sleeping in the sandy neighborhood alleys.

One man believed that part of the problem was that outsiders are flooding in, claiming to have lost their homes in the fire to get their hands on government apartments.

Families say the only aid they have received has been some medicine distributed by a local sheikh.

“They [the papers] said that we each got LE 500. Where is that? We didn’t see any of that, complained Ahmed Ali, a hospital worker who showed The Daily Star Egypt reporter his destroyed 1.5 m X 2 m “home which he shared with his wife and three kids. “If we did get the money we wouldn’t still be here.

Although news of the catastrophe was widely reported in the press, as of Thursday, no NGOs or government aid had reached the victims, except to the few residents who were transferred to Nahda.

Complaints of theft abounded. “They took our water tanks, our fridges, our TVs, Fayza Ahmed said, echoing the words of many others.

They also complained that water and electricity have been cut off for five days. While electricity was brought in to parts of the neighborhood by the government, water and sewage systems were installed and paid for by the residents themselves.

Regarding the cause of the fire, while papers reported that the source was a homemade butane gas tank explosion, locals told The Daily Star Egypt that all their tanks were bought at the designated government outlet, and were not homemade.

Eyewitnesses added that it took the fire trucks nearly three hours to reach them and that they had no water to extinguish the flames. There are no fire hydrants in the neighborhood. Only the military trucks were able to put it the fire out.

One man said he walked to the Sayyeda Zeinab fire department, only to find the firemen apologizing that they were not “in service.

However, officials from the fire department told The Daily Star Egypt that 28 fire trucks carrying five to seven tons of water had arrived within five minutes of learning about the fire. The locals, they said, misperceived the situation when they saw the fire trucks leaving to refill their tanks. They said it took half an hour to put the fire out, but another four hours were necessary to “cool and control the situation.

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