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London fire PA. At least 12 are dead as blaze rips through west London tower block. Photo - Business Insider

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A blazing fire engulfed a 24-storey block of flats in central London on Wednesday, killing 12 people, injuring at least 70 more and trapping some residents asleep inside the towering inferno.

Flames licked up the sides of the block in the north Kensington area as 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought the blaze for hours.

Plumes of black and grey smoke billowed high into the air over the British capital hours after the blaze broke out at the Grenfell Tower where several hundred people live.

 



London Apartment Fire

Residents rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors in the housing block after being woken up by the smell of burning. Some said no fire alarm sounded.

At least 12 people were confirmed dead in the blaze although police said there may still be unaccounted people in the building.

"I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12," said the Metropolitan Police's Stuart Cundy in a televised address.

Witnesses said they saw trapped residents desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as flames enveloped the building.

London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the block which contained 130 apartments.

"In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale," London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters.

Children dropped from windows

By 5pm local time, it was still not clear how many people were able to escape the fire and how many others were still missing. Firefighters carried out systematic searches throughout the charred wreckage and officials urged tower residents to call a hotline to help them get a handle on the number of missing.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but angry residents said they had warned local authorities about fire issues at Grenfell Tower. The housing block, built in 1974, was recently upgraded, with work finishing in May 2016, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Samira Lamrani, a witness, said one woman dropped a baby from a window on the ninth or 10th floor to people on the sidewalk.

"People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming" and one woman indicated she was going to drop the baby, Lamrani told Britain's Press Association news agency. "A gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby."

Joe Walsh, 58, said he saw someone throw two children out of a window from the fifth or sixth floor. Tiago Etienne, 17, said he spotted about three children between the ages of four and eight being dropped from an apartment around the 15th floor.

‘They couldn't stop the fire’

The London Fire Brigade received the first reports of the fire at 12.54am local time and the first engines arrived within six minutes, Cotton said.

 

Witnesses described a white, polystyrene-type material falling like snow from the building as it burned. Some feared the charred tower block might collapse, but a structural engineer said the building was not in danger, according to the London Fire Brigade, which added "it is safe for our crews to be in there”.

Ruks Mamudu, 69, escaped from her first floor apartment wearing only her purple pyjamas and bathrobe. She and her grandson sat outside the building, helplessly watching those trapped on higher floors.

"I sat there watching my house burn down and watching people cry for help who couldn't come down," she said.

People at the scene spoke of being unable to reach friends or family inside the building or seeing people using flashlights and mobile phones to try to signal for help from the building's higher floors.

Nassima Boutrig, who lives opposite the building, said she was awakened by sirens and smoke so thick that it filled her home as well.

"We saw the people screaming," she said. "A lot of people said 'Help! Help! Help!' The fire brigade could only help downstairs. It was fire up, up, up. They couldn't stop the fire."

Questions about regulations and safety standards

The disaster occurred 10 days after a terror attack at London's Borough Market. Some residents initially feared the fire was also terror-related, although authorities discounted that possibility.

Edward Daffarn, a 55-year-old who lived on the building's 16th floor, said the fire alarm didn't ring. Daffarn said residents had complained for years to Kensington and Chelsea Council about the building's safety, to no avail.

"I'm lucky to be alive. A neighbor's smoke alarm went off and another neighbour phoned and told me to get out," he said. "I consider this mass murder."

The Grenfell Action Group, a community organisation formed to oppose a nearby redevelopment project, has been warning about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013. The group has raised concerns about testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site.

In a blog on Nov. 20, the activist group predicted that only "a catastrophic event" leading to "serious loss of life" would bring the outside scrutiny needed to make conditions safe for residents.

"All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable," the group said after the fire broke out.

The Kensington and Chelsea Council, which oversees the area where the fire occurred and is Grenfell's landlord, said in a statement its immediate focus was helping victims and their families. It said the cause of the blaze would be "fully investigated”.

A July 2014 newsletter for residents said the tower building was designed "according to rigorous fire safety standards" and recommended that residents stay inside their apartments in the case of a fire.

The British company that carried out the tower's 2016 refurbishment, Rydon, said in a statement that its work "met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said many questions now need to be answered about safety for the scores of tower blocks around the British capital.

"There will be a great many 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.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing Street office said she was "deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life" in the fire.

 

Source: France24

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