‘I lost everything,’ says father of woman missing after Old Montreal fire

Last week, An Wu attended a conference in Montreal and decided to stay an extra day to visit the city.

Wu rented an Airbnb unit in Old Montreal, and the last time her relatives heard from her was Wednesday night, according to her friend, Pantong Yao.

“We can’t find her,” Yao told CBC News in a video call.

And Yao is not alone. Zafar Mahmood, speaking to CBC News from Pakistan, said his daughter, Dania Zafar, was also missing.

“She was very close to me. For me, it’s the end of the world. I lost everything.”

Wu and Zafar are among those missing after a fire tore through a heritage building in Old Montreal early Thursday morning.

The fire broke out around 5:30 a.m. Witnesses reported a gruesome scene, with people calling for help from windows, and at least one person jumping from the burning building, located near the corner of place d’Youville and rue St-Nicolas.

Nine people, including three seriously injured, were taken to hospital. The body of an unidentified woman was found in the rubble of the multi-unit apartment building on Sunday. Six others are still missing.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called on the Quebec government and Airbnb to work more closely with the municipality to crack down on illegal short-term rentals. Meanwhile, the families of the victims are asking questions.

Building Security Questions

Jill Zhu said Wu’s family asked Airbnb for more information about the rental agreement and the listing. Airbnb told the family the information would instead be provided only to the police, Zhu said.

She said they wondered if there were proper windows in each unit, carbon monoxide detectors, a safe escape route and a working fire alarm that could have woken sleeping guests before the flames went down. consume the building.

Wu is a Chinese national who has lived and studied in the United States, completing her postdoctoral training in neuroscience, Yao said. Her friends and family have done everything they can to find her, holding out hope that she is still alive.

“At the very beginning, we thought she was missing, so we contacted the local people to ask them to help us find her,” Yao said.

Someone even went from hospital to hospital in Montreal to check, but “it’s hopeless,” he said.

Wu’s friend, Shijia Liu, said Wu often spent 18 hours a day in the lab, devoted to her research.

“She is considered a child prodigy and seen as a very good role model for her whole family – for her whole extended family,” Liu said.

The struggle of not knowing

Mahmood said Dania arrived in Montreal last Wednesday for a short one-night getaway with her childhood friend. He spoke to her the same evening.

“She showed us the hotel. She said it was pretty nice and there was a window,” Mahmood said, adding that Dania chose the building in Old Montreal for its history and artistic inspiration. .

She was supposed to stay one night at an Airbnb and fly home to Toronto the next day, but she never made the return trip.

The Mahmood family became concerned when Dania, 32, did not answer her phone. They asked a friend to check out her apartment in Toronto, but she wasn’t there. Eventually, the family decided to file a missing person report and that’s when a detective from Montreal got in touch with them.

“I think she was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the odds stacked against her,” Mahmood said.

Friends and family of An Wu see that she is among those missing after a fire ripped through a building in Old Montreal on Thursday morning. (Submitted by Pantong Yao)

Mahmood describes his daughter as a free spirit, an independent person pursuing her dreams. She had started to apply for Canadian citizenship.

“She was so friendly. Anyone who meets her will remember her for ages, forever. She loves cats. She loves greenery. She loves plants,” he said.

Mahmood says he wants answers and more transparency, wondering why his daughter hasn’t been found yet.

“She lived on the third floor,” he said. “She should have been picked up by now.”

On Monday, Montreal police described a long and meticulous task ahead as crews worked to dismantle the building’s second and third floors. Police have yet to name the victims or say who is missing. The roof of the building collapsed and heavy machinery was brought in to help police, firefighters and forensic investigators sift through the building.

“It will be extremely difficult to work in these conditions,” said Montreal Police Chief Fady Dagher, noting that it is too early to say how the fire started.

People in an elevator near a ruined building
Cranes, bucket loaders and other heavy machinery were brought in Monday to search for victims in the debris. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

Still, Mahmood said he was frustrated with the lack of information. At this point, it is unclear if she is receiving medical treatment anywhere or if her remains need to be identified.

“We need a decent funeral. We need to say a decent goodbye to her,” he said.

“I have to find my daughter. What happened to him ? Why weren’t we taking precautions? What went wrong? Who is responsible ?

Other families should be spared the pain of not knowing, he said, but the Mahmoods still hope Dania is still alive.

“Every day we talked to each other”

Dania was in Montreal with her friend, Saniya Mazhar Khan, 31, who came from Detroit.

The two met in Pakistan when they were around 10 years old, according to Saniya’s father, Mazhar Khan.

They were working on a novel together and shared a lot in common, Khan said.

Older man next to a younger woman
Mazhar Khan, with his daughter, Saniya Mazhar Khan, 31. She was in Montreal with her childhood friend. (Submitted by Mazhar Khan)

“They were very modest and followed their religion,” he said. “They were very polite. Both of them.”

Khan said part of his heart was missing. He said she was pursuing a master’s degree in public health in Detroit.

“Every day we used to talk,” he said. “She wouldn’t hide anything from me. She would share her problems, her goals and everything.”

Khan recalled the photos she would send and the conversations they would have while driving to and from school.

“She always shared with us all her joys,” Khan said. “Especially to his mother, she was talking.”

Khan came to Montreal as soon as he heard of the fire, saw the rubble and returned home to care for his family because, he explained, it was clear his daughter had been buried in the collapsed structure.

He returns to Montreal this week, determined not to leave town without her.

Leave a Comment