MID-SENTENCE, Ewelina Zajczyk runs out of words. She gathers in her two-year-old son Seweryn, sobs and, at length, apologises. ''Sorry, sorry. I don't know how to describe it. The fire. The smoke. The smell. I was so frightened. It was like the world was finished.''
Haltingly, Polish-born Zajczyk is recalling the night, a year ago, when rioting, looting and arson swept through her north-east London suburb of Tottenham. Eventually, the flames would spread to other suburbs and beyond, to towns and cities across England.
How the nightmare began remains in dispute. But on the evening of August 6 a peaceful rally - protesting after the police shot and killed a local man a few days earlier - suddenly turned violent. Zajczyk was woken by the cacophony at 1am.
Everywhere was chaos. Flames were coming from the giant carpet shop, just three doors away. Within hours, dramatic footage of the burning building would be flashed round the world. ''My mother, she sees the pictures. She phones to see if we are safe.''
Over the next few hours, a post office, supermarket, gym and several shops were also burnt out. Dozens of families were made homeless.
''I'll never forget it. When I looked out on the street I could see men and women in their night clothes, holding children. They were forced out by people breaking into homes. I saw one girl jumping from a window to get out of her house,'' says Zajczyk.
One year on, residents are, like other Londoners, celebrating the Olympic Games, centred on Stratford, less than 30 minutes away by Tube. The torch relay came along Tottenham High Road just two weeks ago.
Work has begun on a new supermarket. The Carpetright shop site has been cleared and plans for a similar building laid. Posters proclaiming ''I love [with a red heart] Tottenham'' are plastered all over the suburb, alongside those from Haringey Council pledging, ''In 2012 we will deliver.''
In fact, residents say - physically at least - very little has changed. ''I'm sorry, but I'm cynical,'' says Sarah Jevons, who is studying midwifery at a nearby hospital. ''It's as if the place has been smartened up for the two weeks of the Olympics. The community's had a real kick in the teeth. It needs help.''
Coincidentally, only last week the council set out its ''billion-pound [$1.4 billion] vision for Tottenham'' that includes 10,000 homes, 5000 jobs, a leisure park, civic hub and improvements to the local Premier League club's grounds. Funding permitted.
Surprisingly, perhaps, local people do believe that the community has changed for the better. Mumont Kirk, a Turkish-Cypriot, says, ''How the riots happened was a terrible shock to the community. People now agree that we must never, ever let these things happen again.''
Michael Thornton, a Sydney-born community worker, remains hopeful, too. ''There was a real issue at the start of the riots, but much of the damage was caused by opportunists looking for some action … or some stuff from shops. I think now people realise that, well, they were wrecking their own place, that we're all in this together.''
That's the message of a ''Sorry'' campaign, being conducted this weekend by local churches.
As the Nigerian-born minister of Holy Trinity Church, the Reverend Olubunmi A. Fagbemi, says: ''There are enough people of goodwill in Tottenham to ensure that we will not be sucked into the vortex of violence again.''