A massive fire broke out in Latimer Road’s Grenfell Tower located in White City district in West London in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Six people were confirmed dead by the Metropolitan Police; the fatalities are expected to rise. Over 70 people were treated at six hospitals across the city, of which at least 20 are in critical care. Operations are currently underway at the 24-storey tower, with fire still ablaze on some floors.
The residential building, constructed in 1974, has nearly 120 apartments spread over 20 floors. It is owned by the local government but managed by a private company, reported The New York Times. The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained.
“Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this truly shocking fire at Grenfell Tower. I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days. Many others are receiving medical care,” Commander Stuart Cundy, from the Metropolitan Police, said. The identities of the victims could not be immediately identified. Till now, crews have made it as far as the 19th and 20th floors of the tower block, Reuters reported.
Deeply saddened by the loss of lives in the fire, UK Prime Minister Theresa May called for a cross-government meeting at 3.00 pm (local time) on Wednesday. It will be chaired by police and fire minister Nick Hurd, reported Reuters.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan expressed his devastation after being briefed of the situation. In a statement, he said, “My heart goes out to everyone affected. I am sad to confirm that we now know that there have been fatalities and more than 50 people have been taken to hospitals to be treated for injuries. The fire service is dealing with a rapidly changing situation and these numbers are likely to rise.”
“There will be a great number of questions over the coming days as to the cause of this tragedy and I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers,” Khan said. Read more here.
— Mayor of London (@MayorofLondon) June 14, 2017
Fire services, which reached the site within six minutes of the first distress calls, are still trying to douse the flames. “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale. Firefighters are working very hard at the moment,” Cotton was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“We are still working very hard, rescued large numbers across the floors…we are making steady progress and going through every floor of the building,” she briefed reporters adding that the structure is safe for the fire crews to enter.
London Fire Brigade said on Twitter that 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters were trying to douse the fire at Lancaster West Estate tower block. The fire brigade department issued a statement saying the fire had spread from the second floor to the top floor of the building. The area around Grenfell Tower has been cordoned off and approximately 30 adjacent flats have been evacuated by police.
Operations, which have been going on for over 10 hours now, are likely to continue for 24 hours, the London fire commissioner said, adding that a number of tenders have suffered minor injuries. Watch latest videos and photos of London fire here.
A structural engineer, monitoring the safety of the building, was deployed at the site to ensure it’s safe for fire crews to enter. She refrained from speculating on the cause of the incident, given its “dynamic nature”, Guardian reported.
Also read: What is the status of fire safety in your residential building? Here’s what Indian law says. Click here.
Emergency services are working at the site, with at least 100 paramedics in attendance. Over 20 ambulance crews are deployed as well. The victims have been taken to five hospitals, Royal Free, King’s, St Thomas’s, St Mary’s and Chelsea, and Westminster to be treated for their injuries. An emergency helpline has been set up for those who want to enquire about their friends and family affected by the incident: 0800 0961 233.
Metropolitan Police, present at the scene, have asked people to stay away from the area for now. Police also said the residents are being evacuated from the tower block and a number of people are being treated for various injuries. London Ambulance Service said it has sent “a number of resources” for the North Kensington fire.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Dan Daly said: “Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire. This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances.” The cause of the fire has not been ascertained yet. Unverified reports mention that police have asked families trapped in the building
to cover faces with wet towels and try to escape.
The building was refurbished in 2016 by a private firm. The 8.6 million pound task including classing and retrofitting refurbishments. Earlier in the day, the company removed all references of its involvement in the building from its website. However, it later released a statement saying it “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards”. It added that it wouldn’t comment further given the “ongoing nature of the incident and the tragic events overnight”. This is significant as survivors have blamed the cladding, saying it is the “real issue.”
A person reportedly dropped a baby from the ninth or 10th floor of the building earlier today. According to an eye witness, Samira Lamrani, “People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming. The windows were slightly ajar, a woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby. Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby,” reported AP.
A man named Methrob, who lived on the 17th floor, told LBC Radio: “I heard the fire trucks and so I was alerted that something was going on. There was no fire alarm in the building, we don’t have an integrated fire alarm system,” adding that “real issue was when it caught fire to the cladding outside.”
“That’s when I noticed the fire from outside when I looked out the window. The cladding went up like a matchstick,” he said.
The Guardian has reported that the tower contains close to 120 homes. George Clarke, a British architect who lives near the tower, told Radio 5 in an interview that he saw “the glow through the windows.”
“I’m lucky to be alive – and lots of people have not got out of the building,” a survivor told The Guardian. “I’ve lost everything I own. I’m standing here in everything I’ve got.” The survivors have gathered in the Rugby Portobello community centre which is near the tower.
“I’m getting covered in ash, that’s how bad it is. I’m 100 metres away and I’m absolutely covered in ash. The guys are doing an incredible job to try and get people out that building, but it’s truly awful,” he said. Residents on the higher floors were reportedly flashing torchlights to be rescued.
According to BBC, those present at the scene reported falling of debris, loud explosions and shattering glass. BBC correspondent Andy Moore added there are fears the tower might collapse. In 2016, residents organisation Grenfell Action Group claimed that the tower had a “serious health and safety issue.” The group had alleged that the residents of Grenfell Tower did not receive any proper fire safety instructions from the KCTMO. “A catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO,” it wrote in another blog post.
The fire is the latest tragedy in the country, following three terrorist attacks since March.
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(With inputs from agencies)
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