A MOTHER'S PAIN: A fire officer holds on to Akiba King, the mother of Akeil Motar, five, who died along with Joyce "Mother Joyce" Edwards, 83, in a fire yesterday at Prizgar Lands, Laventille. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

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'LOVING SOULS' DIE

Laventille fire claims lives of grandma, 83, and boy, 5

By Rickie Ramdass rickie.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

An 83-year-old woman and her five-year-old neighbour whom she was babysitting yesterday died in a fire that destroyed the woman's house in Prizgar Lands, Laventille.

Both residents and fire officials are of the opinion that had there been a more efficient supply of pipe-borne water in the community, the tragedy could have been prevented.

The death of Joyce "Mother Joyce" Edwards and little Akeil Motar brought together members from different parts of the community yesterday as they mourned the passing of the "two loving souls" as they were described.

Edwards' body was found in one of the bedrooms of her Assang Road home while the boy was found crouched inside a cupboard. Both most likely died from smoke inhalation, fire officers said.

The blaze started around 12.30 p.m.

Edwards' grandson Adrian recalled what happened: "People just saw black smoke coming from the roof of house, and she (Edwards) was screaming.

"All of the fellas in the area tried to open the burglar proofing but they could not. Eventually, when they were able to open another window, there was just fire and smoke all over.

"Then the screaming stopped and that was it."

As word of the tragedy spread, more residents arrived on the scene.

Around 2 p.m., one of Edwards' daughters, Paula Huggins, arrived. The sobbing woman was held and supported by other relatives.

Shortly after, Motar's mother, Akiba King, showed up. She had to be held by fire officers as grief and disbelief engulfed her. She did not stop to speak with members of the media.

Residents explained that Edwards was babysitting the boy at the time the fire occurred.

They said Motar was staying at the elderly woman's home for the day as there were no classes at his preschool. He lived next door to her, and she would usually care for him whenever his parents were not around, they said.

This was not unusual as Edwards cared for many in the community during their growing years, they said.

"I don't think there is a single person around here that she did not discipline when they were children, said one woman.

The woman said Edwards was a mother figure in the community and that was how she would be remembered—as the fairy godmother of the community.

Miss Mertie, who operates a shop out of her home opposite Edwards' house, said only moments before the fire, she had spoken to Edwards.

"I was here in my gallery and she was sitting over there in her gallery. I was joking and telling her that I was going to cook pigtail rice and that I would bring some for her, and she said, 'Yes, bring it'. Usually, around lunchtime, she would go and take a little rest and come back out in her gallery later in the afternoon. And that is how it happened," she said.

Mertie said some time after midday, she noticed smoke coming from within the small concrete structure before hearing Edwards' screams.

She said she called out to her husband who, along with other men in the area, tried to use hoses to put out the fire.

"There was no water in the pipe, so then they tried to use buckets of water to put it out but they couldn't," she said.

Fire officers from the Wrightson Road and Morvant Fire Stations arrived at the scene minutes later and were able to extinguish the blaze.

"Well, you know that this community is not known for having an adequate supply of water, so by the time we arrived, the whole house was already engulfed. We were successful in putting out the fire, but unfortunately, two lives were lost," a fire officer said.

Also visiting the area was Laventille West Member of Parliament Nileung Hypolite and officials from the Ministry of the People and Social Development.

Speaking to members of the media at the scene, Hypolite said: "It is another sad occasion in the Laventille community where you have the perishing of an elderly lady and a five-year-old guy. It is a sad occasion; it is a sad case for people within the community.

"Miss Edwards is known to be like a mother in the community, and I am certain that at this point in time that when we are celebrating that Christmas season, it will indeed be a very sad occasion within the community."

Wrightson Road and Morvant fire officers are investigating the cause of the fire.

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