Lakanal House fire: Rafael Cervi's 'entire family' died
- 15 January 2013
- From the section London
A man whose entire family died in a tower block fire in south London has told an inquest "everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours".
Rafael Cervi was giving evidence at the "super inquest" into the deaths of six people who were killed in the blaze at Lakanal House, Camberwell in July 2009.
His wife Dayana Francisquini, 26, his step-daughter Thais, six, and his son Felipe, three, all died.
Jurors have heard that faulty electrical equipment started the blaze.
He told the inquest at Lambeth Town Hall he was working near London Bridge on the day of the fire and found out about the blaze when his wife rang him just before 16.30 BST.
He called her 10 times, and alerted her father who was closer to Camberwell at the time.
Mr Cervi said he tried to reassure his wife over the phone and dialled 999, but said he felt "useless" he could not help more.
"I lost my entire family, my wife and a couple of kids that I had," he said.
"Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours."
Mr Cervi said he watched the fire with his father-in-law Fernando Francisquini and initially reassured his wife that the flames did not look as if they were spreading to their flat.
However, as things got worse he told a fireman that she said their son Felipe "was not OK", and that he thought he was dying.
Later, he struggled to find out what had happened to his family.
He told the jury: "I was expecting my daughter to be alive, at least one of them. But I couldn't find them."
The fire started on the ninth floor of the 14-storey block, which housed 98 maisonettes.
Designer Catherine Hickman, 31, Helen Udoaka, 34 and her three-week-old daughter Michelle also died in the fire.
Mrs Udoaka's husband Mbet told the hearing his wife was on maternity leave with Michelle when they died.
He told the inquest: "My life will never be the same again, I can never get over these deaths, over the death of my beautiful Helen and my lovely Michelle. I'm really hoping that one day I will get to see them again."
Counsel to the inquest James Maxwell-Scott read part of a statement made by Mr Udoaka after the fire.
Recalling the final conversation he had with his wife he said: "The last words she said to me were that the smoke was too much. She couldn't bear it any more, Michelle our daughter was going to heaven.
"She said if I didn't see her again she would be going to heaven."
In evidence it emerged a third family had been in the flat with Helen Udoaka and Dayana Francisquini but managed to escape.
The inquest heard the Nuhus family had been sheltering with the other families and had decided to try and find a way out.
They were seen on a 12th floor escape balcony shouting for help about 30 minutes before the last contact was made with the victims. The Nuhus eventually made it to safety.
Miss Hickman's boyfriend of six years revealed that after moving in with him in September she had asked where the fire exits where.
Mark Bailey, who was in New York at the time of the fire, said she had also asked why there were no diagrams showing the fire exits in the block.
He said: "I loved Catherine and we loved to talk about our future and what we wanted."
In the days after his girlfriend's death he said he was "overwhelmed by grief" and would wake up every night screaming and crying.
A statement by Miss Hickman's father Pip on behalf of her family, who are not attending the inquest, was read to the hearing by coroner Frances Kirkham.
Mr Hickman said his daughter had seen her work stocked by shops in New York, commissioned by the singer Bjork and worked for French Connection as well as boutiques in London.
He said: "Catherine lived a London life but was a country girl at heart. A life cruelly cut short when it was a life meant for living. All those who knew Catherine are heartbroken."
The inquest continues.