A year after a fireworks explosion rocked Naxxar (Malta) leaving a mother and a man dead, the magisterial inquiry into the blast has still to be concluded.
While waiting to hear what the court decided, throughout this past year the victims of the explosion have slowly started picking up the pieces.
Three of the five families whose homes in Ħal Dgħejf Street were badly damaged during the explosion have started rebuilding their houses. Construction of the other two buildings – the home of the two people who died during the blast on March 12 last year – has not started.
One of the victims, Paul Camilleri, 47, was in the garage where the explosion occurred possibly as a result of fireworks stored/manufactured there.
His residence neighboured the house of 35-year-old mother of two Sina Sammut, who had taken her children, Gareth and Kirsty, to school before going shopping and had just returned home when the blast occurred.
A year has done little to ease the loss of Ms Sammut, her sister-in-law Mary Sammut explained. Gareth and Kirsty, now aged 10 and five, still long to be with their mother.
“Just a few weeks ago, Kirsty was frantically looking around her other aunt’s house, where she is living, for a CD containing images of her mother. When she found it, she slipped it into a player and started hugging the television set,” Ms Sammut said.
“Kirsty commented about a dress her mother liked wearing and remembered places they had visited together… She still longs to be with her mother,” she said.
Recently, the aunt added, while studying for his religion exam, Gareth stopped and commented that Jesus was about his mother’s age when He died.
“These are a few of the experiences the children live and each one is a tug at the heart strings,” she said.
The Sammut family is still in the process of submitting the application to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to start construction works on their house. There are times when the children are filled with enthusiasm to have their home back. But it soon fades away when they remember their mother is no longer with them.
A few months ago the four families who were the worst affected by the explosion were given a total of €284,700 by the government to construct and finish off their new homes. The Housing Authority will be paying the costs not covered by insurance.
The fifth house gutted by the powerful blast belonged to the Camilleri family, whose property had been seized by the court as part of a civil case initiated by the victims claiming damages. The site remains walled up pending the outcome of the court case.
As a result of the explosion, the Camilleris’ house collapsed, bringing down the homes of the Sammuts and the Bugejas, located on either side. The houses of the Sultana and Bellia families sustained extensive structural damage. The families are living in rented apartments in Naxxar, which were subsidised by the government.
So far, Vicky and Edward Bugeja have re-built the basement level. The family lost all their belongings during the explosion but were grateful that their eldest daughter, Rachel, escaped the blast unscathed. She was asleep in her room when the building collapsed and was saved by a wardrobe that shielded her from the falling ceiling.
“This year was one filled with anticipation, especially until the government confirmed it will be helping us re-build,” Ms Bugeja said, adding that, to this day, she could not believe what happened.
Construction of the Sultanas’ and Bellias’ homes was almost ready and finishing works were about to begin. While grateful for the government’s financial assistance and the public’s help, the three families still had hefty financial burdens ahead as they also had to furnish their home.
“This year was just terrible…We literally had a bomb dropped on our lives,” Isabelle Sultana said.
Bernardette Bellia agreed saying it was “a very difficult year”.
Part of their financial burden may be alleviated this week when the Naxxar council is expected to hand out about €42,000 it had raised in aid of the victims.
Asked why it had taken so long to distribute the funds, the council’s executive secretary said that “the process was a lengthy one as the commission entrusted with the distribution of funds had quite a task to ensure the money was distributed fairly”.
Anyone who wishes to help the families can deposit money in the Sammut family BOV account 4001 7055 396 or HSBC account 0061 0918 5050; the Bugeja family BOV account 4001 7049 454; the Bellia family BOV account 4001 7059 033.