London Tower Block Fire: 17 Dead and Counting

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The death toll of the Grenfell Tower fire has risen to 17 and the number of fatalities will increase as there are no hopes of finding survivors.

Updated: Confirmed dead now stands at 30

  • Fatalities likely to exceed 100
  • Recovering bodies will take weeks
  • Some victims may never be identified
  • Heartbreaking final calls and texts
  • Harrowing pictures of utter destruction 
  • Cause said to be a faulty fridge exploding 
  • US-banned recently installed decorative cladding believed to have helped spread the fire rapidly 

The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12.54am and the first engines arrived within six minutes.

There were believed to be around 600 residents in the 24-storey building in west London when the fire started before dawn on Wednesday when most people were asleep.

Dozens are still missing, including whole families.

Seventy-eight people were taken to hospital, with 18 in critical condition and fighting for their lives.

Neighbours and relatives describe heartbreaking calls and texts from trapped residents as the fire tore through the building.

Nura Jamal, who lived on the 23rd floor and is feared to have died with her two sons, aged six and 11, called a friend at 2 am and said: “Forgive me, the fire is here, I’m dying.”

The first confirmed victim of the tragedy, Syrian refugee Mohammed al-Haj Ali, 23, messaged his family in Syria, writing: “The fire is here now, goodbye.”

Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape during the nighttime fire which completely spread within half an hour.

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“I saw 25 people die before my eyes,” said a traumatised Anne Johnson.

“I could see kids on top of the building, about six kids all together along.

“They were crying for help and writing ‘help’ on the windows. Two kids on the right-hand side on the corner are screaming.

“Nobody could get to them. Nobody could help these children on the very, very top.

“I saw the whole building turn black with smoke with the children still inside, and then you never heard those children again. I saw women and men flashing phones, flashing everything – their hands, T-shirts, anything to say, ‘We’re here’. Within two-and-a-half hours that building melted,” she said.

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Eyewitnesses reported seeing some residents throwing a baby and other children out of the windows to escape the flames as well as adults jumping.

Rescuers say there are still “unknown numbers” of people dead inside, but at the moment it is too risky to try to recover them from the upper floors of the unstable building.

London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton said sniffer dogs were being used in a bid to locate bodies and that parts of the building would have to be shored up in order to make it safe for rescue workers to reach each floor.

“I anticipate London Fire Brigade will be on the scene here for many days to come,” she said, adding that the search of the tower would be a “slow and painstaking process”. 

Alastair Grant/AP

She warned that it could take weeks to identify victims. Some may never be identified.

A picture of the extent of the devastation is now beginning to emerge.

Harrowing images show blown-out windows, melted furniture and washing machines stopped mid-load as residents abandoned their homes in horror to reach safety.

Ben Cawthra/LNP

Now that the smoke has cleared, the public could only gape at the huge burned-out hulk in the working class, multi-ethnic neighbourhood.

Labour MP David Lammy called for arrests to be made over the fire, describing the incident as “corporate manslaughter”.

“We built buildings in the ’70s, those ’70s buildings, many of them should be demolished, they haven’t got easy fire escapes, they’ve got no sprinklers – it’s totally, totally unacceptable in Britain that this is allowed to happen and people lose their lives in this way and people should be held to account,” he said.

A tenants’ group had complained for years about the risk of a fire in the building.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, with a possibility being a faulty fridge exploding that sparked the blaze.

Many of those evacuated said the fire had spread incredibly quickly with almost no warning and multiple residents said they did not hear fire alarms when the blaze broke out.

Wayne Brown, London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said in 25 years on the job he had “never seen a fire with that intensity spread so quickly throughout a building of this size.”

The focus has also turned to renovations completed last year that added decorative touches to the building. It is feared that the colourful plastic cladding, which has been left charred by the fire, could have helped spread the flames. The material of the cladding is believed to be banned in the US.

Prime Minister Theresa May promised an investigation and visited the site yesterday.

Community centres in London have been overwhelmed by the number of donations flooding in for those left homeless by a high-rise apartment building fire.

More than $1.27 million has been raised to help victims of the tragedy.

The local council had received so many donations of food and supplies that by Thursday morning it said it did not need anymore.

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Similarly, so much food, clothing, shoes and other items have been coming in that the centres, churches and mosques have had to start turning away new donations.

Piles of prams, luggage, food supplies, toys and furniture could be seen stacked on the streets as mourners and well-wishers wrote messages of solidarity and hope on posters near the ruined tower.

Missing people posters have been put up throughout North Kensington.

Dozens of hotel rooms, apartments and other rooms were donated to house the survivors who saw their homes go up in smoke.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has offered free food for survivors at one of his nearby eateries.

Many were moved to tears on Wednesday at a moment of silent contemplation outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church in West London.

“There are times when all the words we can say are not adequate and sometimes words fail us because no words can do justice to how we feel, or what we have seen or what has happened. Today is one of those days,” the Rev Mike Long said.

“What we can simply do is look to all that we have seen today – which is good, which is fabulous – people getting together.”

Earlier report: Jun 14, Breaking: Residents Trapped in Towering Inferno in London