Madeiran emigré Marcio Gomes is being hailed as a hero today after miraculously evacuating his family from the Grenfell Tower inferno two hours after the building was engulfed by flames.
He has told the UK’s Sun newspaper how he had to steer his heavily-pregnant wife and terrified daughters over corpses and down 21 flights of stairs in smoke so thick “you couldn’t see a thing”.
Gomes’ testimony is yet further indication that this “major incident” which has claimed so many lives was not well managed.
He told the UK tabloid that he had been repeatedly told to stay put with his family in their apartment.
“We were told it (the fire) was being contained”, he said.
Two hours into the nightmare, when flames had “engulfed the whole building”, the “emergency operator explained that fire crews were unable to make it up to the 21st floor”, the Sun continued.
By this time it was 4.30am – three and a half hours since firefighters arrived on the scene.
Gomes had taken in two neighbours sheltering from the flames.
“I just wrapped them all up in wet towels and sheets and said, ‘There’s no turning back — we have to go’, he told the paper.
“As soon as we opened the door all the smoke came in.
“But at that time we had no choice because the fire started coming in through the windows.
“We had to go down the stairs from the 21st floor.
“You couldn’t see anything. We had to step over bodies with my young daughters and my seven months pregnant wife.
“Our neighbours were with us. I was pushing them down as well.”
He went on: “There was too much smoke. You couldn’t see anything.
“We didn’t see people, we just felt people. We were just climbing over bodies.”
Said the Sun: Marcio had taken the precaution of phoning the fire brigade yet again on his mobile as the family left their flat.
He remained on the line to the operator all the way down.
The dad recalled: “She said, ‘Stay on the phone’. So I did as we went down the stairs.”
The family’s relief when they made it to safety was shattered when they realised their eldest daughter was no longer with them.
She had collapsed halfway down and was lying unconscious.
Gomes ran back into the burning building, screaming instructions to firefighters on the stairs who he described as ‘so disoriented, they had no idea where they were in the building’.
Almost overcome himself by fumes, Gomes saw his daughter being carried to safety.
Now, friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page (click here) for them, and donations this morning have reached £28,550.
Of the inferno that took almost everything the family owned, Gomes reiterated widespread complaints that “he never heard any alarms”.
The Sun added: “Asked about fire safety in the block, he raged: “It was a shambles.”
The family’s incredible escape saw them all treated in hospital for smoke inhalation. It is still unclear whether Gomes’ unborn child has survived. RTP has issued a news bulletin this afternoon suggesting the baby died, though this has still to be confirmed.
Meantime, the Portuguese community in London has rallied to the support of national victims of the tragedy.
TVI24 reports a “wave of solidarity”.
In total, 10 Portuguese appear to have been caught up in the blaze, and all have been accounted for.