Hundreds in the streets following the burning of their slums as fire fighters arrive too late:Hell in Aser [Archives:2004/744/Front Page]

June 7 2004
Whole families became homeless as the blaze destroyed their slums. Yemen Times photo by Yasser M. Ahmed
Whole families became homeless as the blaze destroyed their slums. Yemen Times photo by Yasser M. Ahmed
Yasser Mohammed Al-Mayyasi
A massive fire broke out in the 'Akhdam' slums neighborhood located in Aser in the Capital Sanaa last Saturday evening. The fire resulted in a dozen injuries but no deaths among the Yemenis of African origin and who are commonly referred to as 'Akhdam'. However the fire resulted in the loss of the homes of hundreds of people, who now are homeless.
The fire, whose cause is still unknown, has been attributed by police forces at the scene to an electrical short circuit, while some claim that a gas pipe blew up leading to the disaster.
“Regardless of the cause, what is to do now?” said one of the women whose slum was charred in front of her and her young children.

Fire fighters too late
Knowing that the fire could not be extinguished without the support of fire fighters, many of the residents of the area carried whatever they could of their belongings and left praying that the fire fighting forces would arrive on time. However, they were into a disappointment. “We have been waiting for more than two hours with no use. Neither ambulances, nor fire fighter trucks arrived to the scene on time.” said one of the desperate survivors who was shedding tears in sadness for the loss of his only home.

Weak performance
According to eyewitnesses, the fire forces didn't seem to be well-trained or equipped to handle such a blaze. They struggled for more than 4 hours to put the fire out, but they rather on some occasions resulted in spreading the fire further. “We had to use regular water to assist in extinguishing the fire. It was a horrific scene that I have never witnessed before. In fact, the smoke was so dense that I felt I would faint.” said one of the residents.

Problem needs a solution
Many citizens living nearby complained that authorities have been ignoring the plight of this minority and despite many calls to find solutions for them, they continued to live in those slums for many years. “We hope that this would be a wake up signal to the government to do something about this and bring a permanent and concrete solution to those poor people. Perhaps the government could build houses with apartments on this same land or elsewhere.” One of the nearby residents proposed.

'Akhdams' insist on staying
However, many of the survivors insisted that they will have to go back to this piece of land which they consider 'home' and rebuild their slums from scratch if they had to.
Authorities are yet to confirm the cause of the blaze, but some of the victims are not ruling out a possible criminal intention. “We will fight against all odds and rebuild our homes. I hope and pray that this fire was not intentional so to take us away from this area. But even so, we will continue to stay in the place we lived for many decades.” said one of the homeless minority members.