The Indianpost

Fire survivors face extraordinary grief

Eight children and teenagers are among 11 people killed in Queensland’s worst fire since the Childers backpacker blaze.

Heartbreaking scenes of grief have played out at Slacks Creek, south of Brisbane, where 150 Tongan and Samoan mourners gathered to sing prayers for those lost.

Three men from two Pacific Islander families managed to escape the blaze with their lives, but face grief of enormous proportions.

Among them is Jeremiah Lale, who has lost his wife and five children, aged seven to 18.

He had fought with everything he had to save them from the fire that tore through their home with deadly speed early on Wednesday morning.

With flames all around him, he broke a second-storey window and hurled mattresses on to the ground, screaming for his family to follow him.

He leapt out and opened his arms to catch his children but they didn’t come. Nor did five others who had been asleep inside the tin-and-fibro home.

“He called them to come and he jumped down and waited,” said Faimalotoa John Pali, the chief and president of the Voice of the Samoan People in Logan, who sat with Mr Lale on Wednesday.

“But they all ran into the one room together and, I think with the others, they all died in that room.”

Another survivor, Misi Matauaina, also leapt from the blazing home, believing his partner and their two children, aged three and six, had got out.

But when he fell to the ground, he realised they were still inside and there was nothing he could do to save them, Mr Matauaina’s uncle Faiumu Tafeaga told reporters.

The dead include eight victims aged 18 and under. The youngest is three. Three adults also perished.

Vincent Vaetoa was not at the home when the fire broke out but went to the scene on Wednesday to see where his daughter had died.

Adelle Taufa, 16, had been sleeping at the house while her mother and stepfather were away for the night.

“The last time I saw her (Adelle) was at my younger brother’s 21st, about a month ago,” he told AAP.

“Even now it’s hard to believe it’s happening. I’ve tried to, in my mind, think nothing has happened and everything is fine.

“There was so many people in the house it’s hard to believe.”

Elma Hiddleston, who described herself as an aunt and cousin of the dead, was inconsolable.

“I don’t believe it really happened,” a sobbing Ms Hiddleston told reporters.

“I watched them grow up.

“Eleven people – it is just too much for me.”

Police have described the fire as a tragedy beyond all proportions.

“Never in my service, never have I seen anything like this,” Logan police Superintendent Noel Powers told reporters. “It’s a total and utter catastrophe.”

Neighbours have told AAP those inside stood little chance of escaping from the second storey of the home that now lies in ruins, its top floor collapsed into a blackened shell.

From the back fence of Mark Griffin’s home, directly behind the disaster scene, a charred bed could be seen through a gaping hole in the side of the house.

“I knew there were three generations of a family that lived there. I knew there were a lot of children,” Mr Griffin told AAP.

It is understood one of the families’ patriarchs is among the survivors – a grandfather who told Mr Griffin he was a religious minister and had a yam farm in the Cleveland area.

He described the fire as utterly ferocious, punctuated by one loud explosion and a series of smaller ones.

“The flames totally engulfed downstairs, and worked their way to the top,” he said, adding those upstairs had little hope of escape.

Premier Anna Bligh went to the scene, where she met with Mr Lale as he grieved his wife and five children.

“I don’t think anyone could imagine the pain that that would involve,” she said.

Ms Bligh said the hearts of all Australians went out to the families and the broader community and that counsellors had been sent to local schools the children attended.

“I think on behalf of all Queenslanders and all Australians we send our condolences and heartfelt sorrows to these families and this community today,” Ms Bligh said.

“This is the most serious fire incident Queensland has seen since the Childers backpacker fire that saw the loss of 15 young people.”

In an emotional show of support for the families involved, mourners gathered on the street near the blackened house, singing prayers for the lost.

Meanwhile experts, including some who helped with the aftermath of the Bali bombings, are preparing for the task of recovering the bodies, and what could be a long process to formally identify them.

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