Puerto Rico’s forests and Hurricane Maria

This NASA video says about itself:

NASA Surveys Hurricane Damage to Puerto Rico’s Forests

11 July 2018

From NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA:

NASA surveys hurricane damage to Puerto Rico’s forests

July 11, 2018

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico with winds of up to 155 miles per hour and battering rain that flooded towns, knocked out communications networks and destroyed the power grid. In the rugged central mountains and the lush northeast, Maria unleashed its fury as fierce winds completely defoliated the tropical forests and broke and uprooted trees. Heavy rainfall triggered thousands of landslides that mowed over swaths of steep mountainsides.

In April a team of NASA scientists traveled to Puerto Rico with airborne instrumentation to survey damages from Hurricane Maria to the island’s forests.

“From the air, the scope of the hurricane’s damages was startling”, said NASA Earth scientist Bruce Cook, who led the campaign. “The dense, interlocking canopies that blanketed the island before the storm were reduced to a tangle of downed trees and isolated survivors, stripped of their branches.”

NASA’s Earth-observing satellites monitor the world’s forests to detect seasonal changes in vegetation cover or abrupt forest losses from deforestation, but at spatial and time scales that are too coarse to see changes. To get a more detailed look, NASA flew an airborne instrument called Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral and Thermal Imager, or G-LiHT. From the belly of a small aircraft flying one thousand feet above the trees, G-LiHT collected multiple measurements of forests across the island, including high-resolution photographs, surface temperatures and the heights and structure of the vegetation.

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA provided funding for the airborne campaign.

The team flew many of the same tracks with G-LiHT as it had in the spring of 2017, months before Hurricane Maria made landfall, as part of a study of how tropical forests regrow on abandoned agricultural land. The before-and-after comparison shows forests across the island still reeling from the hurricane’s impact.

Using lidar, a ranging system that fires 600,000 laser pulses per second, the team measured changes in the height and structure of the Puerto Rican forests. The damage is palpable. Forests near the city of Arecibo on the northern side of the island grow on limestone hills with little soil to stabilize trees. As a result, the hurricane snapped or uprooted 60 percent of the trees there. In the northeast, on the slopes of El Yunque National Forest, the hurricane trimmed the forests, reducing their average height by one-third.

Data from G-LiHT is not only being used to capture the condition of the island’s forests; it is an important research tool for scientists who are tracking how the forests are changing as they recover from such a major event.

“[Hurricane] Maria pressed the reset button on many of the different processes that develop forests over time”, said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and G-LiHT co-investigator. “Now we’re watching a lot of those processes in fast-forward speeds as large areas of the island are recovering, with surviving trees and new seedlings basking in full sunlight.”

Among the areas that the team flew over extensively was El Yunque National Forest, which Hurricane Maria struck at full force. The U.S. Forest Service manages El Yunque, a tropical rainforest, as well as its designated research plots, which were established in the late 1930s. University and government scientists perform all manner of research, including measuring individual trees to track their growth, counting flowers and seeds to monitor reproduction, and analyzing soil samples to track the nutrients needed for plant growth.

One important assessment of a tree’s health is its crown, which comprises the overall shape of a treetop, with its branches, stems and leaves. Hurricane winds can heavily damage tree crowns and drastically reduce the number of leaves for creating energy through photosynthesis.

“Just seven months after the storm, surviving trees are flushing new leaves and regrowing branches in order to regain their ability to harvest sunlight through photosynthesis”, Morton said, while also noting that the survival of damaged trees in the years ahead is an open question.

While it’s difficult to assess tree crowns in detail from the ground, from the air G-LiHT’s lidar instrument can derive the shape and structure of all of the trees in its flight path. The airborne campaign over Puerto Rico was extensive enough to provide information on the structure and composition of the overall forest canopy, opening up a range of research possibilities.

“Severe storms like Maria will favor some species and destroy others”, said Maria Uriarte, an ecologist at Columbia University who has studied El Yunque National Forest for 15 years and is working with the NASA team to validate flight data with ground observations. “Plot level studies tell us how this plays out in a small area but the damage at any particular place depends on proximity to the storm’s track, topography, soils and the characteristics of each forest patch. This makes it hard to generalize to other forests in the island.”

But with G-LiHT data scientists can study the storm impacts over a much larger area, Uriarte continued. “What’s really exciting is that we can ask a completely different set of questions,” she said. “Why does one area have more damage than others? What species are being affected the most across the island?”

Understanding the state of the forest canopy also has far-reaching implications for the rest of the ecosystem, as tree cover is critical to the survival of many species. For example, birds such as the native Iguaca parrot use the canopy to hide from predator hawks. The canopy also creates a cooler, humid environment that is conducive to the growth of tree seedlings and lizards and frogs that inhabit the forest floor. Streams that are cooled by the dense shade also make them habitable for a wide diversity of other organisms.

Yet by that same token, other plants and animals that were once at a disadvantage are now benefiting from changes brought about by the loss of canopy.

“Some lizards live in the canopy, where they thrive in drier, more sunlit conditions”, said herpetologist Neftali Ríos-López, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao Campus. “Because of the hurricane those drier conditions that were once exclusive to the canopy are now extended down to the forest floor. As a result, those animals are better adapted to those conditions and have started displacing and substituting animals that are adapted to the once cooler conditions.”

“Who are the winners and losers in this new environment? That’s an important question in all of this”, said NASA’s Doug Morton. During the airborne campaign, he spent several days in the research plots of El Yunque taking three-dimensional images of the forest floor to complement the data from G-LiHT. He said it’s clear that the palms, which weathered the hurricane winds better than other broad-leafed trees, are among the current beneficiaries of the now sun-drenched forest. And that’s not a bad thing.

“Palm trees are going to form a major component of the canopy of this forest for the next decade or more, and in some ways they’ll help to facilitate the recovery of the rest of this forest”, Morton said. “Palms provide a little bit of shade and protection for the flora and fauna that are recolonizing the area. That’s encouraging.”

The implications of this research extend beyond the forest ecosystem, both in time and space, said Grizelle Gonzalez, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and project lead for the research plots in El Yunque. As an example, she pointed out that the hurricane caused the mountain streams to flood and fill with sediment that ultimately flowed into the ocean. Sediment can negatively impact the quality of the drinking water as well as the coral communities that fisheries depend on for both subsistence and commerce.

“It’s beautiful to see that so many federal agencies came together to collaborate on this important work because forests play a key role in everything from biodiversity and the economy to public health”, Gonzalez said.

G-LiHT data also has global implications. In July, the team heads to Alaska to continue surveying the vast forestland in the state’s interior to better understand the impacts of accelerated Arctic warming on boreal forests, which, in turn, play a key role in cooling Earth’s climate by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. “G-LiHT allows us to collect research data at the scale of individual trees across broad landscapes,” Morton said. “Forests from Alaska to Puerto Rico are constantly changing in response to climate warming and disturbances such as fire and hurricanes.”


London Grenfell disaster update

London Region FBU banner on the FBU-Justice4Grenfell joint march last month

From daily News Line in Britain:

Monday, 9 July 2018

Firefighters are angry about Grenfell too! – writes Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary

WRITING in the Independent, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union posed the question: ‘Firefighters are angry about Grenfell Tower too – so why are we being attacked?’

Wrack said: ‘I served as a frontline firefighter in the London Fire Brigade for more than two decades before being elected General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

‘I’ve been in the fire and rescue industry for 35 years. As an operational firefighter in inner London, I responded to many serious traumatic incidents, some of which still live with me to this day. ‘But nothing I had to deal with came close to what firefighters faced one year ago as the 24-storey Grenfell Tower burned.

‘It was an unprecedented, catastrophic event that should never have been allowed to happen. ‘We have all read stories in the media recently about firefighters’ remarkable actions that night: how far up into the building they went to rescue people; how they wrote their names on their helmets for identification purposes if the unthinkable was to happen; how they entered the building with the growing fear it might collapse.

‘We will have also read some of the outrageous attacks on firefighters: Claims that the operation that night was “not very good” and how they let the rules get in the way of saving lives.

‘I could not disagree more. Firefighters went above and beyond the call of duty that night, saving many lives and doing whatever they could to do so.

‘Every decision taken will be scrutinised by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry but it worries me deeply that the focus is shifting the blame from the people at the top who created the conditions where a fire like this could happen.

‘Firefighters were not the reason why 72 innocent people were killed in Grenfell Tower.

‘Rather, it was a 40-year drive for deregulation driven by governments of both parties which created a fire safety system not fit for purpose and which allowed a building to be essentially wrapped in petrol.

‘The election of Thatcher in 1979 heralded a lurch towards deregulation, privatisation and attacks on fire and rescue services. ‘They did this even if it risked more deaths, injuries and property damage. Ministers part-privatised building control in local authorities. ‘This is the system where building plans are assessed for compliance with, among others, fire safety regulations.

‘The change allowed for a race to the bottom where private, uncertified inspectors could sign-off building plans.

‘This system prioritised the needs of business over the safety of buildings and people. The recent Hackitt review into building regulations acknowledges some of these failings. ‘The deregulation trend continued under the Blair government who in 2003 scrapped the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC) which had overseen decades of improvement in fire safety measures and operational planning since its creation after the Second World War.

‘This has had a severe impact on the ability of the fire sector to address strategic issues.

‘Take, for example, the issue of cladding fires or the “stay put” policy. ‘No real forum today exists where these issues can be addressed. The problem would rest with individual fire services despite clearly being a national issue.’ ‘Since 2010, the process of deregulation has escalated. David Cameron’s “red tape challenge” to cut what he saw as unnecessary and burdensome regulations ran down the importance of public safety.

‘Ministers failed to improve building regulations and instead promoted voluntarism and self-regulation. ‘These developments over the decades created the environment where Grenfell Tower was allowed to burn. ‘We want to see prosecutions where appropriate. ‘That means the business owners and those who failed to keep their premises safe.

‘A year after the devastation, nobody has been arrested despite the obvious fact that Grenfell was a deathtrap. ‘But government ministers, past and present, must also be held to account for overseeing a deregulation agenda that failed to keep people safe in their homes – a basic expectation of public authorities in a civilised society.

‘Only by holding those in power to account, alongside a fundamental change in housing and fire safety, will we achieve justice for the 72 people who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower. ‘This will be a very difficult day for everyone who lost a loved one in the fire, everyone whose home was destroyed and lives upturned. ‘It will also be a difficult day for Grenfell firefighters too. Our focus from here onwards will be to achieve real justice for Grenfell.’

Meanwhile, at the Grenfell inquiry Bridgehead commander Brien O’Keefe explained how they were short of basic equipment like Breathing Apparatus (BA) and the radios did not work on the night of the fire. He told the inquiry: ‘The BA Crews were experiencing severe conditions and were hampered by the Limitations of Standard ‘Duration Breathing Apparatus (SDBA) in normal conditions, gives you twenty minutes working time, but in these conditions, it was greatly reduced.

‘Our BA crews were reporting that they were unable to reach the upper floors, before reaching their turn-around time.

‘So I transmitted to the Incident Commander that we needed, Extended Duration Breathing Apparatus (EDBA). ‘I also requested additional BA Control Boards and IEC packs to be brought to the Bridgehead by crews. ‘Our radio comms were poor, we lacked firefighting equipment and the crews were experiencing difficulty with water pressure. ‘Frankly speaking, one water main supplying more than two or three firefighting jets is not sufficient.

‘And we were faced with multiple jets and multiple vehicles trying to undertake multiple rescues in a high-rise. ‘There were many people now waiting to be committed and I made the decision to allow the BA crews to go past the Entry Control Point without going under air. ‘This is way outside Policy but we weren’t reaching and rescuing people because crews were running out of air. So I said to the BA crews to give me their tallies, to open their sets and that they should go under air when they got to a very smokey commission.

‘The crews were in agreement and they knew it was a huge risk to them. I spoke to one Team Leader Phil Wigley from Paddington and I told him to keep a close eye on his crew and made him promise, actually promise me, to look after them. ‘He promised me he’d do his best. I didn’t take this decision lightly and it was a very hard decision for me to make.

‘I made the decision to commit crews without starting up under air immediately, to pre-arm the BA saturation and so facilitate rescues of FSG persons trapped within the upper floors of the building.

‘I believe this tactic did help crews undertake numerous rescues although it added increased danger to the BA crews themselves.

‘I also detailed the BA crews to commit without firefighting media and breaking-in kit because we didn’t have enough of it. ‘I told them to use whatever equipment they could find already in use or available as they went up the floors. There was a lot of discarded equipment at this stage.

‘Crews began reporting that it was zero visibility and extremely hot and that they were unable to determine floor, or flat numbers. Light smoke was now apparent in the vicinity of our Bridgehead.

‘A Station Manager then arrived at the Bridgehead and said to me that he was taking over and asked who was in charge. ‘I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I now know him as SM Andy Walton. ‘I briefed him that I was in charge and we then had a robust discussion. He stayed there only a very short time. ‘Then he left and we didn’t see him again.

‘I continued with my team as before. At some point Group Manager Richard Welch arrived at Bridgehead and stated that he was taking over. ‘I briefed him and discussed the current situation with him. ‘I told him that SDBA crews were unable to reach persons on the upper floors and said that this was a job where EDBA was required.

‘Richard Welch asked me how much EDBA was required and I said, “All of it.’ And he said that wasn’t possible but I said that we needed all of the EDBA in London; we had to have it. He said, “Really?’ and I replied “Everything”. ‘He said “Ok, I’ll get EDBA.” He’s a good officer, Richard Welch. I’ve never worked with him before but he seemed like a very practical man and I communicated quite well with him. He let me carry on doing what I was doing.’

Grenfell Tower Fire inquiry testimony reveals tragic consequences of fire service cuts: here.

The fire that broke out at the Whitstable House tower block, North Kensington, London on July 3 caused great anxiety to its residents and the local community, which includes survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire: here.

Grenfell activist Delaney against London Review of Books smears

This 14 June 2018 video from Britain is called LOWKEY ft. KAIA – GHOSTS OF GRENFELL 2 (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO).

By Alice Summers in England:

Grenfell fire: Local resident Joe Delaney speaks out against attack by Andrew O’Hagan on those seeking justice

23 June 2018

In its June 7 edition, the London Review of Books published an almost 60,000- word article, “The Tower,” on last year’s Grenfell Tower inferno by journalist and novelist Andrew O’Hagan. The essay marked one year since the devastating fire that claimed 72 lives. It coincided with the opening days of the official inquiry during which fire survivors and relatives of those who died gave moving tributes to their loved ones.

O’Hagan’s piece is characterised by vicious and dishonest misrepresentations and inaccuracies. It demonizes local activists, residents and firefighters, while offering up hymns of praise to the local Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council. World Socialist Web Site writer Alice Summers reviewed O’Hagan’s essay here.

The following is an interview conducted by Summers with Joe Delaney, who was one of the people interviewed by O’Hagan. Delaney is a local resident who, years before the Grenfell Tower fire, established a record of fighting for the right to decent and safe housing. He has sought justice for the victims and survivors of the Grenfell fire, earning him the respect of the entire local community in the North Kensington area of London. Having lived in a flat adjacent to Grenfell Tower, he was evacuated after the inferno that left behind a toxic and burned-out shell. Forced to live in hotel accommodation for months, he has only recently been temporarily rehoused by RBKC.

Alice Summers: O’Hagan’s piece came out almost exactly a year after the fire, and at the same time as the opening of the inquiry, where survivors and family members were giving moving tributes to their lost loved ones. What do you think of the timing of this essay?

Joe Delaney: I think the main issue with the article is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It’s caught halfway between an article and a book. If this had been a series of articles, with the first one coming out at the start of the inquiry and being about the victims, that would have gone down quite well. Then I don’t think people would have felt so hurt about the subsequent parts had they come out in subsequent weeks.

O’Hagan seems to take the opinion of whomever he happens to be with at the time. It seems that, unfortunately for us, the last people he spoke to were the council workers. That’s the opinion he’s left with at the end, and that’s the opinion that seems to have framed his whole argument, the whole direction and tone of his piece.

I can give you a very good example [of O’Hagan’s bias towards the views expressed by the council staff]. In one part of O’Hagan’s article he writes about how those who had lived in the tower were receiving £5,000 in the period immediately after the fire, and those who lived nearby were receiving £500. One of the phone calls I shared with O’Hagan was from the chap who lived next door to me [on the Lancaster West estate, adjacent to Grenfell Tower]. He went to pick up his £500 and the council said to him that he would only get £270, because he was a single person and the £500 was only for families.

I spoke to the council about this, pointing out that on the council website it says that people will be getting £500. After telling me that giving only £270 was the new policy, I asked the council worker where this was written down. He responded that it wasn’t. I asked him if this “policy” perhaps had something to do with the fact that my neighbour doesn’t speak English very well, as I came to the council the same morning and got my £500 without problems. Other neighbours of mine who were also single people also got their £500. This smacked of equalities issues to me.

I had to browbeat the council worker into giving my neighbour the correct amount of money. I shared this call with O’Hagan specifically, as this confusion and arrogance typifies the council’s response. It even goes against what central government was telling them to do: the leader of the council [Nicholas Paget-Brown] was standing next to Prime Minister Theresa May when this policy was announced. It’s on their website that we get £500; it’s on the central government website that we get £500. But yet somebody in their finance department just decided that he wanted to do things differently.

You can even see it from the way council staff speak in O’Hagan’s piece; “Of course we care about these people, we’re not horrible”, etc. It’s this paternalistic and patronising attitude. “Just be quiet, we know what’s best, we care for you.” But they were never treating people as equals; they were always treating the local residents as people that had to be managed. That’s where the big problem is and that’s what all of us have had, and still have, issues with. That’s why the name of the Housing Management Group became the Tenant Management Organisation: originally it was an organisation managed by tenants, and in the end its design was to manage the tenants and keep them quiet.

AS: From reading O’Hagan’s account you would not get that impression of the council. On multiple occasions in his essay he writes about times when council staff went out of their way to help survivors and local residents. In “The Tower ” he writes that these staff received a lot of abuse and ingratitude. O’Hagan presents council officials as the real victims in this story. What do you think of O’Hagan’s portrayal of the interactions between local residents and council employees in the immediate relief effort?

JD: On the ground council staff weren’t the one’s being blamed. It wasn’t like there were lynch mobs when on the ground council staff were seen out and about. We have always understood that they are not the ones who make the decisions. It was organ grinders that we were interested in, not monkeys. O’Hagan makes out that there was this mob mentality, this mob rule that was dictating all of our decisions. It is completely unfair to us and totally mischaracterises the area. It makes all of us seem like we were just money grabbers looking for handouts.

People weren’t housed in hotels the first night. Many people had to bed down on the grass in that area. I was lucky as I was able to stay with a friend of mine. I had never seen the area that busy even during the [Notting Hill] Carnival. Another example of council mishandling is the fact that when it came to 5 p.m. that night [the day after the fire], all calls were handed over to a call centre in the North of England, which had no idea what it was doing when it came to Grenfell-related matters. They were dealing with people as standard homeless applications so many were told they didn’t qualify for help. They were just treated as standard homeless cases.

AS: O’Hagan ends his account with the stories of two former Grenfell residents who have now been successfully re-housed. But he neglects to mention the fact that more than half of those who were made homeless by the fire still haven’t been given permanent homes. What do you think of the fact that so many families still haven’t been properly re-housed a year after the fire and of the fact that O’Hagan completely ignores this?

JD: It’s just not the case [that the housing problem has been resolved]. If you are not in permanent housing, then there’s still no stability for you and there is always this nagging worry that’s always at the back of your mind. Are we going to be moved out any time soon? Where are we going to be moved to? When will it all finally be settled?

I was offered one place in all the time I was in the hotels. The first place I was offered is the one I’m in now; I took it straight away. I know that all the other survivors and local residents are like this too. After some people did accept offers it then turned out that the accommodation was substandard. Some properties have to be modified, decorated, or otherwise had to be brought up to decent home standards.

There were numerous other issues. For one person who moved into a new place, that place then burnt down. It was shown on the “Panorama” [BBC] piece that came out a few weeks ago. He had barely been in his place a week when it burnt down. The properties the council was offering us were hardly brilliant flats. The “luxury block” that was mentioned in the media had balconies that weren’t properly fitted: the panels were loose and in some places you could easily fit a child’s head through them.

AS: O’Hagan’s account turns reality on its head. He tries to make out that the real victims of the fire were the senior council members who ended up losing their jobs, rather than those who lost their homes, their family members or even their lives in the blaze. He speaks about council leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, and deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen in glowing terms. What do you think of the contrast between the way he presents the senior councillors and the way he presents local residents and survivors?

JD: These are people who should have lost their jobs in the months and years preceding the fire, because of the way they were treating people in the local community. They ignored issues that the community raised. [Grenfell Action Group member] Edward Daffarn and I would not be in the position that we are now—where councillors will not dare to take part in an interview or discussion with us—if they didn’t know that we can bury them with facts.

I’m not just going to launch into a personal invective attack on these people; the worst I have done was jokingly compare a councillor to a character from Harry Potter—this is hardly serious or damaging, but they have not been so gracious towards us. We can prove that on certain dates they said that things would happen, but then in subsequent weeks and months that the complete opposite happened. Can they not see that it is this shoddy attitude towards public consultation that led to this disaster?

AS: O’Hagan is very critical of the Grenfell Action Group in particular. He tries to portray them as a lying and unpopular group. But he also mentions in his essay that the Grenfell Action Group didn’t raise concerns over the flammable cladding, only over other issues such as exposed gas pipes and the proximity of the new school to the tower. We know that these issues were also very significant in allowing the spread of the flames and the smoke and in inhibiting the firefighters’ rescue efforts. But O’Hagan tries to present the Grenfell Action Group’s safety concerns as paranoid complaints that had little relation to the actual disaster.

JD: When it is the council’s side of the story that he presents, he writes that they weren’t building experts so how could they possibly know that this fire was going to happen. But when it comes to the victims, he writes that they didn’t know what they were talking about because they didn’t predict exactly how the fire was going to happen. It’s a ridiculous contrast that is completely unbalanced. Anyone who was actually affected by the fire is presented as a screaming maniac for taking a risk-averse attitude, whereas when it comes to everyone who had the power to actually make the necessary change, it is completely understood why they risked the lives of their constituents.

But it is their jobs to know these things. The burden of proof, the burden of being absolutely right, the burden of due diligence of care, or even of just being risk adverse is all on the victims in O’Hagan’s view, not the council which has the resources and legal obligations to be so. When I’ve worked in the public sector, I often had troubleshooting roles or responsibilities as part of my job, but even when this isn’t the case, if it is clear that something will not work or go wrong then I would always speak out. I’m not an expert in social services or education, any more than I am an expert in building control or planning, but you still try and apply a logical head to these issues.

The Grenfell fire was a perfect storm of problems. They were warned that the lack of fire access was going to cause problems, and it did. They were warned that the way that the building works were being undertaken, leaving exposed gas pipes, was going to be an issue, and the gas pipes were. There were so many different issues; the cladding is just one part of it. Maybe if the cladding had been the only issue in that building, this wouldn’t have happened.

We were told that we couldn’t have sprinklers in Grenfell Tower because they’d be at risk of vandalism. So while we couldn’t have pipes of water exposed in the building, pipes of gas were perfectly acceptable. The impact and likelihood of risk wasn’t being properly considered; this is what GAG [Grenfell Action Group] and others were highlighting. The incentive behind the job to undertake risk assessment and due diligence was completely the wrong way ’round. It’s very easy to decide to take a chance of a risk if you’re not the one who is actually going to face the consequences of that decision.

AS: O’Hagan also blames the fire brigade for the causing of all those deaths on June 14 by not responding in an adequate way and by sticking to the “stay put” advice. But he ignores the fact that the “stay put” policy would have worked had there been working fire doors, had there been proper compartmentalisation in the building.

JD: O’Hagan claims he went into this with an open mind and wanted to present a fair and balanced argument, but that is neither fair nor balanced. The landlords had a legal responsibility to ensure that its doors were adequate and could survive the correct amount of time under the circumstances of a fire. But they blatantly did not. Who else’s fault is that? Also, could the firefighters on the ground decide to ignore “stay put” themselves? Blame those responsible for the policy, not those forced to implement it.

There were also many times that the council was told that the [Kensington and Chelsea] Tenant Management Organisation [KCTMO] were doing things in such a slipshod manner that their reports saying that the building was safe clearly can’t be trusted. What due diligence did the council undertake to verify the information they were being given? Where there should have been decisions by the council to err on the side of caution, if it wasn’t politically or ideologically convenient to do so, then they were sure as hell not going to do that.

AS: O’Hagan’s article took him a year to write. Why do you think he dedicated so much time to slandering the North Kensington residents and exonerating the local council of any guilt?

JD: Like I said earlier, he has a very fair weather attitude: his opinion is the opinion of the last person he spoke to. It’s disappointing. This piece is going to be remembered for a very long time. I certainly would not want my name to be associated with authoring it. I wouldn’t have wanted to pre-empt things in the way O’Hagan has. It also contradicts the government’s own findings.

Even the Grenfell Taskforce has condemned the council. And that’s not a party/political matter; it was written by civil servants. The report from London Councils is even more scathing. Besides, it was a Conservative government that hung a Conservative council out to dry. What does that say about your bedfellows if that’s what they do to you when you’re under hassle?

The truth will start to really come out, about the way facts were ignored at the council, the way they didn’t follow up on issues, corners were cut and decisions were taken about gentrifying the entire area. It’s the same problem everywhere. And it’s not just a Conservative issue. Gentrification and [lack of] affordable housing are a Labour and Conservative issue. That’s why I have condemned both sides.

AS: O’Hagan himself makes reference to the fact that, like the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Labour-run councils have also made cuts, have reduced their stock of social housing and have used the same cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower. But he turns this around to suggest that because other councils are also similarly criminal, it somehow reduces the guilt of the RBKC council.

JD: “What-aboutism” is no justification for what happened. It’s a ridiculous argument to put forward: “everyone was doing it at the time so it’s not fair that we are the ones who are punished.” It’s the “tobacco argument”: “it was legal to sell so we did so and we had no duty to consider or publish proving that it causes cancer.”

There were loads of issues raised regarding building standards. Even the standard terms and conditions of contracts that RBKC gets suppliers to sign state that contractors are under obligation to follow the law, and that any decisions where there is any kind of risk should be brought to the council’s attention so they can decide an appropriate course of action. They can’t now say that it wasn’t their fault. Either their procedures were inadequate then or they’re lying now. Either way, it’s self-serving: it always suits the narrative they want to serve.

For RBKC to wail that it is not fair for them to be punished for this when councils everywhere did the same is utterly contemptible. No pun intended but RBKC are the ones who got their fingers burnt first. There’s no use crying now.

O’Hagan clearly says he’s not an expert on these matters, but neither are we. But locals, especially GAG, were still right about what was going to happen and the extent of damage that would occur. Just because he didn’t like the message, the way it was presented, or by whom, is not a justification or reasonable excuse to shoot the messenger. Since the fire, I have often felt guilty because I wonder if events might have been different if I had complained louder or longer beforehand; I know others have felt the same way. Goodness knows how guilty we would feel if we hadn’t even tried to put a stop to these problems given the tragedy that occurred.

The way O’Hagan tries to present local residents, it’s as if being seen as too ignorant means you’re not allowed a position and therefore not allowed to argue back, but equally if you seem articulate and educated you’re not supposed to be there so you shouldn’t have a position and don’t have the right to argue back. It seems to me that his real motive is that he just doesn’t want people to argue at all. It’s a paternalistic and patronising attitude: “We know best, so just hush. You let the grown-ups do the talking and be grateful for what’s dished out to you.”

This attitude suits the council very well as they can use it to avoid scrutiny and remain unaccountable. Either locals are a feral mob who are too aggressive and uncouth to engage, or they are “agitators” from privileged backgrounds who have a wider agenda, which is served by unfairly bashing the council.

The fact that O’Hagan refers to me as “a politician” in his piece shows this attitude clearly. I grew up on a council estate in that area, don’t have a university education, and come from an Irish Traveller background—the most “political” I have ever been is voting, and my only agenda is to see the facts of this issue come to light to protect others and so those civilly and criminally liable are held properly accountable.

AS: At one point in his essay O’Hagan compares Grenfell Tower to Dickensian England: “In the eyes of some, the tower blocks are the continuation of the old habit of keeping minorities poorly housed. But, as always, it depends how you measure it. If the yardstick is the white people’s mansions on Elgin Crescent, then yes. If it’s Victorian pigsties, however, then improvement has definitely occured [sic], albeit too slowly and for too few.” What do you think of that?

JD: Exactly. “You’re better off than people were 150 years ago, so what are you complaining about?” It beggars belief. Instead of looking at the gap between the rich and the poor, we should actually be looking at the gap between the poor and the really poor instead—and those at the bottom are inconvenient, ungrateful and unreasonable if they dare do otherwise.

This attitude is ridiculous and leads to inequalities not just of wealth, but in other areas too—we’re back to the deserving and undeserving poor described by Dickens. This attitude was evident when the risk posed to the people who lived in Grenfell Tower was decided by ideology and convenience rather than reason or safety, and decided by people who would no doubt have demanded far higher standards had they lived in Grenfell Tower themselves as they “deserved” better.

Grenfell fire disaster, London march for justice

The front of Saturday’s Grenfell march passes Parliament in London, England

From daily News Line in Britain:

Monday, 18 June 2018

Joint Justice4Grenfell-FBU demonstration

THERESA May we don’t trust you, we trust the FBU’, shouted over 3,000 marchers from Downing Street in London on Saturday. The joint march organised by the FBU and Justice4Grenfell attracted delegations of firefighters from as far as Ireland and Scotland.

A number of banners from the lecturers’ union UCU were also on the march. Humberside FBU Brigade Secretary, Gavin Marshall, told News Line: ‘We want to see justice done that’s why we are launching our own inquiry. ‘We see that the building regulations have been fragmented over the last decade. This government wants to privatise everything.

‘We have seen job cuts coinciding with deregulation, meaning that safety inspections have been reduced. ‘It’s these cuts combined with inflammable cladding that led to why we are here today so don’t point finger of blame in the direction of firefighters. We went above and beyond throughout the night. ‘When you are asked to write your name and number on the top of your helmet you know you are in a difficult situation. ‘That is done to identify you if you don’t come out of the building, and that is what firefighters on that night had to do.’

Chris McGlone, FBU executive council member for Scotland said: ‘We’re here today to show our continuing support for the people of Grenfell.’ Also from Scotland Denise Christie said: ‘It reminds me of Hillsborough – as soon as there was pressure on the government they look for someone to blame. At Hillsborough it was the fans and at Grenfell they’re trying to blame firefighters.’

Caron Morton, from South Shields, said: ‘The truth needs to come out and stop blaming the firefighters. ‘I’m here in London to look after my dad but I have had to come here to show my support. ‘This government is responsible. I despise everything they have done.’

At a rally outside Downing Street before the march west London firefighter Lucy Masoud said: ‘The fact that still over half of those affected by the fire have [not] been housed after surviving trauma and neglect shows the contempt that this government has for the residents. ‘The Grenfell fire was like no other, it should not have happened. Why was there flammable cladding and combustible material around windows?

‘Why were residents’ warnings ignored? The victims never stood a chance. In Britain’s unequal society the privileged can buy their safety. ‘If it was down to the government and PM May Grenfell would be kicked into the long grass, this cannot be allowed to happen. ‘We must all lead a fight to see those responsible be brought to justice. May and the government should be dragged to that building to see the consequences.’ A 72 second silence for the victims of Grenfell was held at the rally.

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, addressing the rally said: ‘Never again will we allow this to happen, it is despicable that it had taken place in the richest borough in the country. ‘We don’t just want the truth from the inquiry, we want justice. ‘We will end the austerity which has cost 11,000 firefighters’ jobs in the last few years leading to cuts in inspections.

‘5,000 people are now living on the streets in London and thousands more on housing waiting lists.

‘Above all else, we will be proud to build council homes again and the big corporations and the rich are going to pay their taxes for a change.’

North Kensington resident Joe Delaney, who lived in flats next to Grenfell Tower said: ‘I was there on the night and saw how awkward the situation was for firefighters. ‘They had to get riot shields from the police to protect themselves from falling cladding which was in flames.

‘The Blair government sold off the building research leading to deregulation of building. We should not be making short term savings. ‘How many of the buildings around here have this cladding?

‘Parliament is just getting an 8 billion pound makeover but all our lives are important not just politicians.’ ‘When riots happened in London in 2011 24-hour courts was set up to give exemplary sentences to those involved. They were to be seen as a lesson to the public.’ ‘Those responsible for Grenfell should not only be arrested but locked up in prison covered in cladding till they rot.’

Paula Peters from Disabled Peoples Action Campaign said: ‘This government has blood on its hands.’

‘We need to place the blame on Theresa May and ex-Mayor Boris Johnson. They need to be held to account, and we must make sure that the enquiry is not a whitewash. ‘In a block of flats in Merton last week lives were in danger. The entry phone system in the block was locked and no one could get in or out for hours. This government needs to go!’

Tasha from Justice4Grenfell said: ‘Silent marches had been held across the UK in over 20 cities and vigils were held in Australia and the United States. ‘Today we call for change. They have heard our silence and now we will make some noise. ‘We called for an absolute ban on flammable cladding and it to be removed from over 300 buildings across the UK.’

On the march News Line spoke to firefighter Matt Lamb from the West Midlands who reported: ‘We have just had a ballot for industrial action against the imposition of unagreed contracts. ‘On a turnout of 82 per cent we had a massive 90% vote for strike action. Because of this massive vote management has conceded talks to resolve the issue.’

The march stopped outside the Home Office and was addressed by NEU teachers’ union joint secretary leader Kevin Courtney who told marchers: ‘I was born 8 miles from where the Aberfan disaster took place where over 100 children and their teachers were buried as a coal tip slid down the Valley. ‘The similarities are striking: the authorities ignored the warnings of the disaster.

‘The community fought for prosecutions which never came, they still are ignoring the people. Justice must be seen to be done, we need prosecutions.’

On the march Tash Joyce from Bendigo, Victoria, in Australia told News Line: ‘I made sure I would get here for this march. I got my flight brought forward a week so I could be here. I have brought books for the children of Grenfell.’ As the march returned to Downing Street more speakers addressed the crowd.

Eileen Short from Defend Council Housing said: ‘Grenfell is a result of 30 years of cuts and privatisation and condemned the first leader of Kensington and Chelsea council who said that residents were offered either sprinklers or decent home standards. How can you treat people in this way.’

Daniel Renwick, a local resident and filmmaker told the rally: ‘When Hillsborough happened the police lied immediately and blamed fans, 24 years later the minute this fire got out the fire service are blamed when there was a complete breach of architectural safety. ‘The Kensington and Chelsea Council and the tenant management organisation completely failed.’

FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, told the rally: ‘In 35 years in the fire service I have never seen anything on that scale, no one has dealt with a fire like this. ‘From day one we said we want to see justice for the community. The FBU is not just about pay and conditions but for safety of the public. ‘In the 1980s we campaigned to stop furniture being filled with dangerous materials. It is glaringly obvious we have a hostile environment for the people of North Kensington.

‘The fundamental question is how and why a building can be wrapped in petrol in this day and age.

‘We need to hold the criminals to account. All those who have advised and signed off regulations need to be held to account. ‘Dozens of previous recommendations from previous fires have been ignored. ‘The only thing we can rely on is ourselves, the only way we can get change is by organising it ourselves, this is a national issue. ‘We need to build a mass movement, we need every trade union here, we need to stop the city in its tracks.’

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad and Weyman Bennett from Stand Up to Racism also addressed the rally. Concluding the rally musician Niles Hailstones sang Bob Marley’s ‘Stand up for Your Rights’ and Moira Samuels from Justice4Grenfell called for all at the rally go back to the areas and support their campaign for justice.

THE RESIDENT of the flat in which the Grenfell Tower fire started said yesterday that police wanted to place him in witness protection after “distorted” press reports. Behailu Kebede gave a statement to the public inquiry through his lawyer, saying inaccurate media coverage had portrayed him “like a criminal who was to blame for the fire”: here.

FIREFIGHTERS were not to blame for the stay-put strategy in the Grenfell Tower, fire expert Dr Barbara Lane told the Inquiry, it is the refurbishment, she insisted, which was to blame for the spread of the fire which claimed the lives of so many men, women and children: here.