As It Happens

After the Grenfell fire, this family survived comas, cyanide poisoning and the loss of an unborn son

With preparations underway for a public inquiry into London's Grenfell Tower fire, many of those who survived are still counting their losses.
This photo of the Gomes family was taken a week before the deadly Grenfell blaze. From left to right: Marcio Gomes, his wife Andreia Gomes, and their daughters Megan, 10, and Luana, 12. (Marcio Gomes)

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Marcio Gomes and his family had to step over the bodies of their dead or injured neighbours to escape their 21st-floor apartment the night London's Grenfell Tower became engulfed in flames. 

"There was nothing we could do, so I kept saying to the girls, 'Keep going, keep going, keep pushing down,'" the London father told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.  "That's always going to be with us."

As preparations get underway for a public inquiry into the June 14 fire that killed at least 80 people, many of those who survived are still counting their losses.

Gomes was asleep at home with his wife Andreia and their two daughters — Megan, 10, and Luana, 12 — when their neighbours came knocking on their door to warn them about the fire.

Andreia was seven months' pregnant at the time, and both she and Megan are asthmatic. When they called for help, the firefighters told them to stay put and someone would come for them.

But two hours passed, and nobody came. By then, Gomes said, the flames had reached their apartment.

"I told the girls, 'We need to go. We need to go now and there's no turning back.'"

The 27-storey London apartment tower was swallowed by flames on June 14. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

As they were making their way down the pitch-black stairwell, stepping over bodies the whole way down, Gomes heard Luana and her friend calling for help from somewhere behind him.

Just then, two firefighters came up the stairs. They found the children, who by then had passed out, and all three carried the children to safety.

By the time they made it to the ground level, Gomes realized he had become separated from his wife and youngest child.

"At that point, I panicked," he said. "I started thinking: Were those bodies that I'd stepped on my wife or my daughter?"

Family reuinted

But Andreia and Megan had already made it out of the building, and Gomes was reunited with his family. All four were taken to Kings College Hospital, where Andreia, Megan and Luana were placed in medically induced comas.

Only Gomes was awake to learn they'd lost the baby.

"His heart wasn't strong enough and it stopped," he said.

A general view shows what remains of the Grenfell Tower in London on July 15 — just over a month after it was engulfed in flames. (Tolga Akmen/Reuters)

His family is now awake and recovering in a hotel room. They are planning for a funeral for Logan, the baby boy who was due to be born on Aug. 21.

"It's been very difficult and emotional, not just for me and my wife, but for my two daughters," Gomes said.

"They were already planning, you know, what they were going to do with baby Logan and who was going to look after him."

Cladding and cyanide

Luana was diagnosed with and treated for cyanide poisoning, making her the first Grenfell fire survivor to receive that diagnosis. Her sister and mother were also treated with the antidote as a precaution.

​Cyanide poisoning is not uncommon for fire survivors. The toxic substance is found in many plastics and gets released into the atmosphere when those plastics burn. In high concentrations, it can be deadly. 

It's not clear what caused the cyanide gases released in the Grenfell blaze, but foam insulation in the cladding installed on the exterior of the tower is known to produce the gas when burned.

The local authority, Kensington and Chelsea Council, is facing criticism over alleged cost-cutting during renovations that covered the tower in flammable aluminum cladding. 

According to the Guardian and the BBC, the type of cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell  is not compliant with building regulations for taller buildings in the U.K. either.

"None of the residents wanted the cladding on," Gomes said. "We told them that. We told them our safety concerns in terms of fire."

Graffiti near the Grenfell Tower blames the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London for the blaze that killed at least 80 people. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

A spokesman for the British Rigid Urethane Foam Manufacturer's Association, the trade body which represents makers of the type of insulation used at Grenfell, told BBC it would be unwise to jump to conclusions about what caused the fire's toxic gases.

"There is no evidence to suggest that PIR (rigid polyisocyanurate) presents any special hazard in terms of toxicity," the spokesman said.

As an inquiry into the blaze is set to begin, Gomes is demanding justice. 

"Somebody does need to take full responsibility for this," he said. "I don't think it's one individual person. I think its a number of bodies that have made critical mistakes in allowing this to happen."

With files from CBC News and Associated Press

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