WILFRED Chattergoon held his head between his hands and wept, as he sat on the side of the road, expressing guilt and hopelessness that he was not present when fire gutted his family's Gasparillo home, claiming the lives of his mother, daughter, and pregnant niece-in-law on Saturday morning.
His mother, Evelina Miller, 74, daughter, Amy Chattergoon, five, and six-month-pregnant niece-in-law Tender Grant, 22, along with her unborn baby, perished in the blaze, which started in one of the bedrooms in the two-storey wooden and concrete structure. Fourteen people lived in the home, which consisted of two adjoining buildings, separated only by a door.
His sister, Kimberly Chattergoon, 16, who suffered 70 per cent burns about her body, is warded at the ICU of the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH). His aunt, Rosetta Bramble, 55, who suffers from high blood pressure, was also taken to the hospital for treatment.
Tre Chattergoon, Grant’s partner, was too distraught to speak to the media as he too wept bitterly at the side of the road, comforted by family members and relatives. He contradicted initial fire reports that three died in the blaze.
“It’s not three. It’s four. My girlfriend was pregnant. It was our first child,” was all he could muster before he broke down and had to be led away.
Amy was the last of three daughters of Chattergoon and Alisa Jaikaran, 37. It is believed she suffocated in her sleep and fell to the bottom of the building as the wooden flooring burned.
Chattergoon, who puffed on a cigarette as if to garner strength as he continuously bent his head and wiped tears with a towel draped around his neck, told Sunday Newsday, “You know what is hurting most and I can’t do nothing about it? I wasn’t there. I was not at home to do anything. That is what killing me. I wasn’t home to lift a finger to save my mother or my daughter. Without me being home, they did not stand a chance,” he cried while being interviewed at 181 Caratal Road, Gasparillo.
Chattergoon was spending the night at the SFGH with another of his three daughters, Ariana, eight, who suffered an asthma attack earlier that evening.
“I was not at home. I was at the hospital with my daughter who is asthmatic. Just after 10 or 11 pm, my mother and them (relatives) came to the hospital to drop off something for me to eat. Everybody talk. Mom was so joyful and happy, making jokes.
"I did not know that was the last time I would talk to my mother and my little daughter,” he broke down again.
“I was just dozing off when I got a phone call after they left. I heard my sister screaming in the background that the house was on fire. I fell. I faint right there in the hospital. When I recovered I came up the road to see this.” He pointed to the burnt-out structure across the road.
“All my life I lived here. I am 40 years old. My navel string buried here. I never went to the hospital. A midwife delivered me right here, so this is all I know.
Now everything gone. I have nothing. All I have is the clothes on my back. “
Chattergoon said he did not mind the loss of the house and other material things, “but the lives – my mom, my daughter, my nephew girlfriend – she was pregnant, that is hard and painful.
Amy and Ariana, students of the Caratal RC Primary School, lived with their mother, Alisa Jaikaran, at Pleasantville. When Jaikaran’s mother suffered a massive heart attack and was unable to look after the two young, energetic girls, Chattergoon took them to live with him at Caratal and enrolled them in the nearby primary school.
“They loved the new school, they loved the environment,” Chattergoon said, as he described Amy as "the life of the party. She was a darling, a lover, always full of joy.”
Jaikaran said Amy was the apple of her eye. “She was my princess. She was my spoil child. I never expected that she would be taken from me like this. It is not fair.”
The fire is believed to have started around 2.15 am, and Chattergoon said he would have been outside, sitting on the back step liming, until another of his cousins left for work around 3 am, at a bakery in San Fernando.
“After she left I would go back to sleep, but this time I wasn’t home.”
His cousin Nikita Baptiste explained that around 2.15 am, one of her sisters, Bernadette Miller, woke up to look after her baby and noticed smoke. Miller alerted members of the household, who were all asleep.
Baptiste called the fire services, grabbed a hose and tried to put out the blaze.
“Tender was screaming, 'Fire, fire,' saying that she was getting burnt and she was trapped. I sprayed the water in her room and she told me to continue spraying.”
However, Baptiste said the kitchen, close to where she was standing and spraying Grant’s room, caught afire.
“Things started to crash and pitch and I take the hose and run out of the house.”
She said she grabbed her mother, Angelina Miller, who wanted to go back for her purse, “and I pull her outside. My sister, Bernadette, was outside with her three children and we just went across by my neighbour and watched everything burn flat.”
She said her aunt Evelina, who needed assistance to move around, could not be saved.
Baptiste said they also lost two cars, an Aqua and Hyundai Accent, which were parked in the driveway, as well as two puppies and their mother.
Damage is yet to be estimated as police and southern division fire services continue investigations into the cause.