12 killed as fire engulfs apartment block in LondonArchive
LONDON: At least 12 people died on Wednesday after a massive inferno tore through a London apartment block, with witnesses reporting that terrified residents had leapt from the building and dropped their children in a desperate bid for survival.
As smoke continued to billow from the gutted building, survivors voiced anger over longstanding safety fears at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, which was home to between 600 and 800 people.
Parents wrapped wet towels around their children as they tried to escape, while others were seen desperately waving for help from the higher floors, which fire-fighters could not reach as the blaze took hold.
“There are now 12 people who have died that we know of,” police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters at the scene.
“I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase” he said, adding that he did not expect fire crews hunting through the debris to find any survivors.
Eighteen of 78 people admitted to hospital are in critical condition
Seventy-eight people were being treated in hospitals, 18 of whom were in a critical condition.
The alarm was raised just before 1am and within an hour flames had engulfed the entire block of 120 flats.
More than 200 fire-fighters had been tackling the blaze and managed to rescue 65 people.
Some 16 hours on, pockets of flame were still burning inside, and fire crews had reached the top. They had used drones to examine the upper floors.
Blazing chunks of debris fell from the wrecked building, a 1970s local authority-built block in the working-class area of north Kensington, just streets away from the wealthy homes of Notting Hill.
Residents claimed the fire spread on the exterior of the tower, which had been covered in cladding in a major refurbishment completed last year.
The London Fire Brigade said the cause of the fire was under investigation, but its chief Dany Cotton said she had “never seen anything on this scale” in her 29-year career.
Witnesses said they heard screaming from the upper floors as the flames raced up the tower. “I saw people jumping out of their windows,” Khadejah Miller, who was evacuated from her home nearby, said.
Two witnesses said they saw children dropped by their parents out of the building into the arms of people on the ground.
Adi Estu, 32, who lives nearby and took refuge in a church with her husband and nine-month-old son, said: “I saw people flashing their lights for help, families flashing their mobile phones like a torch. But the smoke covered them. We saw them dying.”
Eddie Daffarn, a 16th-floor resident, said he struggled to find the stairs as the building filled with black smoke until a fireman grabbed his leg and directed him to safety.
“Loads of people haven’t got out,” the 55-year-old said.
He said residents had complained for years about mismanagement of the block, saying he had warned that “one day there will be a catastrophic fire and that will hold these people to account”.
“This is mass murder and these people need to be put into court,” he said.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2017