Emergency services still battling blaze as fatalities expected to rise
The death toll of the tower block fire in North Kensington is expected to rise in the coming days, police and emergency services have warned.
By late Wednesday afternoon the official number of deaths from the fire, which started shortly before 1.00 am, was six with as many as 20 people on the critical list in hospitals across London. By 5pm it had risen to 12 deaths reported. (Update: 11am 15th June, fatalities now up to 17 people)
NHS England said 74 people in total are being treated in hospital, with 20 of those critically injured. Sixteen patients were taken in a critical condition to St Mary’s hospital in Paddington.
But with firefighters unable to get to all of the 120 flats in the 24-storey building on Latimer Road there are fears that more bodies will be found.
The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and the country’s new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar publicly expressed sympathy and solidarity with the people of London.
Several people have yet to be accounted for although some of this may be due to the confusion and disruption.
There have been distressing eye witness accounts of people jumping from the building, throwing children to safety, and others flashing torches or phones to signal they were trapped.
An eyewitness describes watching a baby get ‘dropped from ninth or tenth floor’ of Grenfell Tower pic.twitter.com/0B4mZ7K81v
— Press Association (@PA) June 14, 2017
Various reports throughout the day suggest the fire started on the third or fourth floor with some residents saying they believed it had been caused by an exploding fridge or other electrical appliance.
More than 250 London firefighters and 40 fire tenders struggled through day and night to control the blaze which London’s Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said was the worst she had seen in 29 years in the fire service.
“This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never seen anything of this scale,” she said.
Crews “rescued large numbers of people, very early on across a range of floors” and that firefighters had “been up as far as the 19th and 20th floors”.
She said it was “far too early to speculate” about the cause of the fire.
— Telegraph News (@TelegraphNews) June 14, 2017
People reportedly leapt from the tower as others, trapped inside, desperately tried to make ropes from sheets or used lights on their phones to signal for help from windows and the Some witnesses said a baby was caught by members of the public after being dropped from a window on the ninth or 10th floor.
The building, on Latimer Road, is part of the Lancaster West Estate, a social housing complex of 1,000 homes run by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
It had a £10m refurbishment just over a year ago which included double glazing, communal heating and exterior cladding to smarten it up.
Residents, who say they repeatedly expressed fears about fire safety in the building including inadequate alarms, suggested the cladding itself was a fire hazard.
One blog from the Grenfell Action Group referred to a very near tragedy in a fire in 2013. See below:
— Michelle Cooke (@Mich_Cooke) June 14, 2017
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said “questions must be answered” about the blaze and it may be that lessons will have to be learned but the first priority had to be the rescue operation.
He said: “You’ll have seen the blogs from residents. You’ll have seen the speed at which the fire appears to have spread.
“All of these are questions which must be answered, if for no other reason than because there are many, many other tower blocks across London and across the country.”
Reporters asked him about suggestions residents had been advised to stay in their flats and he replied: “Thankfully, residents didn’t stay in their flats and fled.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested cuts in local government financing inevitably led to the fire and the tragedy.
Kensington and Chelsea is the richest borough in London and in the country but North Kensington is the “poor” part with extensive social housing including 1970s tower blocks like Grenfell Tower. Among them is the famous Trellick Tower which is now a listed building.
It is known that said the block had just undergone an £10.3 million refurbishment not long after London Fire Brigade had ordered the company that manages the flats to improve the safety of two nearby buildings after a serious blaze in 2015.
The leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council Councillor Nick Paget-Brown promised a “thorough investigation”. He said several hundred people would have been inside when the fire broke out.
Councillor Robert Atkinson said: “The building is totally gutted. We have 125 homeless families, which has to be one of the priorities for the council.”