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Loafers Lodge survivor's haunting choice

Author
Georgina Campbell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 10 Jun 2023, 11:11am

Loafers Lodge survivor's haunting choice

Author
Georgina Campbell, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 10 Jun 2023, 11:11am

A man who survived last month’s deadly Wellington boarding house inferno has spoken of his desperate leap from his third-floor window on to a roof below to escape the flames.

Five people died in the tragedy at Loafers Lodge, near central Wellington.

Several others were rescued from the roof and had to jump for their lives from windows on the third floor of the building.

Faamatala Sili ended up at the hostel as a last resort for accommodation. Now living in a central city Kāinga Ora apartment, he said the horror of the blaze that killed five people and forced him to jump still haunts him.

The 33-year-old was playing video games in his room and didn’t think much of it as fire alarms went off in the building.

But then he heard what sounded like the stomping of feet and glass smashing, so he opened his door.

“All I saw was just really thick black smoke, which was covering the entire hallway,” Sili told the Herald.

“I looked up the hallway, I couldn’t see anything.”

The only way Faamatala Sili survived the Loafers Lodge blaze was to jump out of a third-floor window. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The only way Faamatala Sili survived the Loafers Lodge blaze was to jump out of a third-floor window. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Sili rushed to open his bedroom window to breathe some fresh air and realised the only way he could survive the fire was to jump out.

“I just gathered my courage because it looked like a long way down but I knew that either I jump or I’m going to burn inside here. So I just closed my eyes and pushed myself off [the ledge].

“I crashed on to the roof and lay there for a few minutes because the air was knocked out of me.”

As he lay there winded, he heard a sound he never wants to hear again: A person screaming for help and pleading for someone to call an ambulance.

“It was a really horrifying sound,” he said.

Sili managed to get the attention of a woman from a nearby building who pointed emergency services to his position on the roof and he was rescued.

A 48-year-old man has been charged with five counts of murder after the fire and appeared in Wellington District Court this week.

He has interim name suppression and has been remanded in custody. The man has earlier appeared in court on two counts of arson.

Despite falling the equivalent of two storeys, Sili’s only injury was a sprained leg.

He was checked over at the hospital and taken to the Newtown Park Stadium with other survivors on the morning of the blaze. He was given clothes and arrangements were made for temporary accommodation.

The fire at Loafers Lodge in Wellington killed five people. Photo / Angelia Zhang

The fire at Loafers Lodge in Wellington killed five people. Photo / Angelia Zhang

A week later, Sili was signing paperwork for permanent accommodation in the apartment where he now lives.

“This compared to Loafers Lodge is like finally getting my own small home that I’ve always been dreaming about,” he said.

“Also peacefulness and quietness. No bad people . . . a really safe environment.”

The apartment came with a fridge, oven and washing machine. Wellington City Mission and other agencies have found a bed and two-seater couch for Sili, and more furniture is on the way.

It’s bittersweet though.

“I had to actually go through a really bad thing for them to finally realise that I need a place,” Sili said.

“If it wasn’t for the fire, I would still be stuck at that place [Loafers Lodge].”

Sili still has traumatic feelings from the fire he hopes will eventually disappear.

“It’s kind of a bad feeling, like inside it kind of hurts. It’s kind of terrifying at times.”

Sili is staying positive and plans to re-enrol in the same drawing and design course once he is properly settled in his new home.

“I’m finally in a safe place, a good place, I’m going to use this opportunity.”

In total $358,000 has been raised through the mayoral relief fund, which Wellington City Mission is managing.

A service of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the devastating blaze and those affected by the tragedy will take place in Wellington next week. It will be held at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, 2 Hill St, at 5.30pm on Thursday, June 15.

The date of the service marks one month from the fire. It will be led by the Reverend Canon Katie Lawrence and will be open to the public.

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