Screams echoed from the upper flat of a Belmont, Mahaica, East Coast Demerara (ECD) home on Wednesday as a three-year-old girl stretched her hand towards her uncle, desperately hoping he could save her from the devastating fire engulfing their house.
Tragically, both the toddler and her nine-year-old differently-abled sister lost their lives in the inferno. Dead are three-year-old Shameena Hardat and her nine-year-old sister, Animika Hardat.
According to the Guyana Fire Service, the cause of the fire is still unknown.
The horrifying incident occurred about 13:00h after the children were left unattended as their mother had stepped out to run an errand.
When Guyana Times arrived at the scene, the mother of the two girls, Bibi Shabeeka Hardat, was still grappling with the demise of her two daughters and revealed that she had left the girls in the house to go to Cove and John, ECD, which is just a few villages away.
“This morning (Wednesday) all of them get up, the two of them prepare fuh go school, me two son, and me don’t normally carry me disability child everyday school, because she don’t really do nothing… me went to Cove and John because of the kids and child support with the other father,” the grieving mother said.
Shabeeka, a mother of four, explained that the house is owned by her 79-year-old father and was occupied by a total of 13 people, including her family of six. She added that the house consists of several apartments, and she had built an additional apartment at the upper part of the house at the back.
At the time of the fire, her apartment was locked with a padlock while the children were inside. All the other occupants of the home were not present except for the children’s aunt, who was on the road, not far from the house.
The woman said her two sons were at school at the time, and her common-law husband, the children’s stepfather, had gone to Georgetown to make some purchases.
According to her, she received the news of the fire as she was returning home.
“Me tell them, me can’t reach back in time, when them call me, me still nah believe what them seh ‘cause I’ve had pass through an incident like this…,” she said.
Neighbours told this publication that they did try to save the girls, but they were confronted with about two doors before getting to the area where the children were located.
“At the set time we keep calling and say bruk the lock and let’s save the child and do what we have to do, left the house, and do whatsoever we get to do. While we travelling coming back, we keep calling, we still not believe that that tek place as well because… we can’t rush an come here because the bus full and come here, we were so worried about it,” the children’s stepfather said, adding, “I woulda tek a burns fuh save them two kids…. but we couldn’t reach in time.”
Not the first fire
Shabeeka related that this was not the first time their home had been targeted.
Just last year, a neighbour had set their house ablaze, causing not only property damage but also physical harm to Shabeeka.
The woman said she was slashed in the throat, and her finger was chopped off by the neighbour, who attempted to burn their house down.
“I tried to stop he and try to out the fire and he chop off my finger. This happened June 26th last year. Since then, he threaten me that he gonna burn this house down and kill me, my family, and my children,” the grieving woman revealed.
The neighbour who faced jailtime for his actions has since been released from prison.
Despite the previous traumatic experience, the mother said she and her children had persevered, striving to rebuild their lives.
She said she could not work because of her child living with disability and the need to care for her and the other children.
She added that she would usually leave the children at home alone, because she could not afford to transport her child around with her.
“I feed them and everything and I hide all the matches and everything. I turned off everything. I don’t know what went wrong,” the woman cried.
She said she has been taking care of her children with the help of her common-law husband and has not seen or heard from the children’s father in five years.
“I pray for my children; I take them to Masjid every Friday so that Allah can take care of them and protect them. I can’t even afford to take them. I use to put them on the bicycle, but I am asthmatic so I save and buy a trolley so I can push all of them.
“The nine-year-old one she has a disability. She even get documents at the hospital where I been trying to get disability help for her so many years, she used to go to the clinic, she used to go to the disability clinic, she used to go to the Unity for therapy, foot therapy…
“The next daughter was like me mommy, she was like the mother, she used to help me daughter, help all of them, feed them, do things for them, put on clothes, everything, everything.”
Child stretching for help
Meanwhile, the children’s aunt told Guyana Times that she was on the road, with her kids when her neighbour came to her and told her their house was on fire. She said she paid the man no mind because he would usually joke around.
“I was sitting down here and my kids were playing and so I was focusing on them playing and my neighbour come from over there and say look you gutter is on fire…so he does normally talks jokes…meh still come out a from here and meh watch, when meh watch up top there, I see the fire and me husband wasn’t round and nobody big wasn’t in the yard, everybody left to go to school to collect they kids.”
The woman said the first thing that came to her mind was to check on the girls who were in the upper flat of the house, but by the time she checked, the entire stairs were covered in flames.
“I call my husband and he come in a hurry and we run to the back and the door was padlocked, he had to break two doors to get in when he reach pun the other step was a fire already there, me tell he don’t bother with that, run to the window when he run to the window, he start break the window, but the heat was coming forward to him and the smoke was too much,” the aunt recalled.
“He put in his foot and grabble them [the girls] from them hand, the lil one stretch her hand but they skin was sliding off and the heat was pon he, he couldn’t make it so, he leave them and somebody run out and call a couple of boys and them come in and start pull out everything from the downstairs, the woman explained.
The woman said while some persons went to the scene to genuinely help them save their belongings, others had their own intentions. She claimed that her money was taken from the spot in which she kept it.
“While they were pulling out and so we had like $200,000 but I don’t know who can take it but everybody was just hurrying to pull out everything, because I buy a washer and a fridge yesterday, but everything was broken…” she said.
As news of this heart-wrenching incident spread, Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony made a solemn visit to the bereaved family. Expressing heartfelt sympathy, he assured them of the Government’s commitment to providing assistance during this trying time.
Efforts are underway to secure temporary accommodation for the family, offering them a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness that has enveloped their lives. The probe into the incident is ongoing.