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Two generations lost in Mitchell's Plain fire tragedy

───   06:55 Sun, 12 Jun 2016

Two generations lost in Mitchell's Plain fire tragedy | News Article

Cape Town - Patrick Abrahams stood in shock outside the gutted remains of his house in Mitchell's Plain on Saturday after a fire took the lives of nine people, including his children and grandchildren on Saturday morning.

Wearing the shorts and T-shirt that he woke up in when he heard screaming, the tragedy of the morning came out in a jumble. "Two children were sleeping in the double bunk... it was my whole family," he said as men and women walked up to him and held him tight, murmuring words of comfort. His teenage sons Kyle and Joshua and three-year-old Nikita, his granchildren Cameron, Elmarie and Tamiya and his daughter's partner all died in the flames that quickly engulfed the small semi-detached house on Macbeth Street, Eastridge.

His daughter Gloria, the mother of the grandchildren who died, was in a critical condition in hospital. His ex-wife Verona and two friends were also rushed to hospital. "My family was all in the house," said the stunned spray painter. He said her son Cameron was about six or seven, little Elmarie, five, and Tamiya was two. Patrick's nephew Arafat, in his early teens, also perished in the fire. Tessa Jacobs said her son Jean-Pierre, who was best friends with Kyle, slept over at the house often and was supposed to sleep there on Friday night.

"But he changed his mind. When he heard what was going on, he ran over to help," said Jacobs. "JP" as she called him, and a group of men could not get into the house because the flames were so fierce, so they broke a hole through a back wall to get people out. "JP told me he carried Kyle out in a blanket," she said, shaking. JP sat with his eyes closed in Kyle's car, the brim of his cap pulled over his eyes, not wanting to speak to anybody. "It was his best friend," said Jacobs.

She said the whole neighbourhood jumped into action, bringing hose pipes in a vain attempt to douse the flames while waiting for the fire brigade. She felt that they took long to arrive. She said Gloria's boyfriend managed to get out, but he ran back in to save the children. According to her son, he screamed "take them, take them" but when he realised they were trapped, he lay down, holding the children, and died. "I took [JP] to the doctor afterwards. He is going to need counselling." The outside residents are believed to have fled to safety.

Michelle Robain, who lives on the other side of the semi with husband Frederick and four children, said she spoke to one of the tenants who lived in the community of shacks and the Wendy houses built against the walls on the Abrahams' property. "She told me the electricity tripped and when her boyfriend or husband went to put it on again at the box there was a big flash. She said they screamed for help but nobody could get in because the cars were parked in the small driveway which is sealed by a large gate and is guarded by a Pit Bull terrier.

"It was almost like two or three minutes and the whole place was burnt down," she said. There was also speculation that a gas bottle on the property may have fed the flames. "Three of the owner's children passed, three of his grandchildren passed, his sister's child passed. His daughter's boyfriend passed," she said. "They told me we can't live here until it is cleared. But I don't mind. I have my children," she said, hugging herself as her husband mopped up the water that had seeped through the ceiling and cracks in the wall caused by the heat.

City of Cape Town disaster and human settlements officials were on the scene to assist with making sure everybody could find a place to stay. They took down names and confirmed who would be staying with relatives and friends, and who needed accommodation. The Robains and their four children will live live with Michelle's mother. As Patrick Abrahams stood in an alley next to his house, blinking through the cold wind at the remains of his home, relatives arrived and told News24 that they would make sure he was looked after.

"I'm very heart sore. I watched those children grow up," said pensioner Melvin Josephs. There was a groan from everybody when a blue mortuary bag was carried out of the house by mortuary officials and lifted into the van. Neighbours said the children ran in and out of each other's houses and played in the street together. "This house was very open to people who needed a roof over their head. That could be why there were so many people in the house," said one man.

Western Cape police spokesperson, Captain FC van Wyk, said when emergency services arrived, three people died in the ambulance while paramedics were trying to resuscitate them, the youngest a two-year-old child. An 18-year-old victim died on the way to hospital. The circumstance of the fire were being investigated, with police cordoning off the scene and people in forensics suits and breathing masks present.


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