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November 18, 2010

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Jing'an blaze survivor tells his story

IT'S the most lavish meal that Yan Gaoyi has eaten after surviving the Monday inferno. "I was not supposed to drink so much," said Yan, 45, who finished his last bottle of beer with three friends at 2pm yesterday.

Yan, a migrant worker from Sichuan Province, still feels pain in his lungs and stomach nearly two days after he, together with 13 others, was rescued from the top of the 28-floor building in Jing'an District.

"But being here is better than anything," said Yan, who rents a small and shabby room in a crowded old community near his workplace. He suffered from slight burns to his neck.

Yan's three companions, all from Sichuan, came to Yan's residence to celebrate his survival - the table was a plank set on a stool.

"I once thought my life was over," said Yan, puffing out smoke rings. Yan, an experienced scaffolder, was working on the building's roof with 11 others when the blaze and thick smoke engulfed them from below.

Two residents joined the workers then on the rooftop.

"One woman even had a tight hold on her dog at that moment," the man suddenly laughed, but soon turned silent. "I hope she is OK."

The trapped people saw a slim chance of being saved when a helicopter hovered overhead.

"We could not see the helicopter due to the smoke, but we knew it was there from the sound," said Yan.

However the chance slipped when the helicopter finally flew away, despite their desperate waving.

As some workers, including Yan, began to think about death, two firefighters came to their rescue.

The firefighters, Jiao Xiaoyang and Huang Jiang, asked the group to line up hand-in-hand. With one firefighter leading the way and the other at the line's end, the trapped people began to come down the stairs.

By 4:30pm, two hours after the fire began, they were at last safe. Many of them could hardly talk and had difficulty opening their eyes.

Yan feels like he has been forgotten after the tragedy, though, as he has not received a single call from the authorities - his only contact with officials was the time the workers were brought to safety and they were interviewed at a police station where they spent a sleepless night.

He now worries about his 2,500 yuan (US$376) scooter, which has parked under the building - Yan, sometimes still dazed, reassured himself it would be found intact and he could get 4,000 yuan for two months' work, despite the cessation of the work after the fire.

"Give yourself a break and have some fun," said one of Yan's friends when leaving Yan's room. Although he doubts he can have fun for a long time to come - the tragedy has left scars that can't be seen.


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