Grenfell Tower: at least six dead as fire destroys 24-storey tower block

‘Like something out of a horror movie’: London fire witnesses speak

Met says it expects number of fatalities to rise as a result of what senior officer calls a ‘truly shocking’ fire

At least six people have died and more than 50 are being treated in hospital after a huge fire engulfed a tower block in west London in the early hours of the morning.

The Metropolitan police said it expected the number of fatalities to rise further, as a result of what Commander Stuart Cundy called a “truly shocking” fire at Grenfell Tower in the Latimer Road area, near Notting Hill.

Hundreds of firefighters battled to rescue residents from their flats after the blaze broke out, shortly before 1am. The fire rapidly engulfed the full height of the 24-storey block, and was still burning strongly more than six hours later, with a thick pall of dark smoke visible across the capital.

Residents could be seen waving and screaming from their windows, as firefighters wearing breathing apparatus fought to rescue them. There were unconfirmed reports from a number of witnesses who spoke of seeing residents jump from their homes as they were engulfed by flames.

The London fire commissioner, Dany Cotton, had earlier confirmed there had been fatalities as a result of the “unprecedented” fire.

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” she said. “This is a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24-storey building, from the second floor upwards.”

She later said that firefighters had rescued “large numbers of people from inside the building across a range of different floors”, and had spoken to rescuers who had made it as far as the 19th and 20th floors.

Two hundred firefighters were at the scene at the fire’s peak, along with 40 engines and a range of specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue vehicles, she said. In addition, at least 20 ambulance crews were in attendance.

NHS England said 74 people are being treated in hospital, 20 of whom are in critical care.

The Met said it was likely to take some time before the identities of the dead could be confirmed, adding that it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the blaze.

Prime minister Theresa May said she was “ deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Grenfell Tower”. Nick Hurd, the new police and fire minister, will chair a meeting of the civil contingencies secretariat at 4pm to ensure the government is ready to assist emergency services and local authorities, she said.

However, it has emerged that concerns about fire safety in the tower were raised as early as 2012, when a health and safety review found firefighting equipment had not been checked for up to four years. A residents’ group also raised concerns about the single emergency exit to the building in 2016, warning that if that exit were to become blocked in a fire, people would be trapped inside.

In a blogpost on Wednesday morning, the Grenfell Action Group said: “We have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea].

“ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

The 1970s building underwent a £10m refurbishment that was completed last year, when it was fitted with a new communal heating system, double glazing and exterior cladding. There are believed to be 120 homes in the tower.

Witnesses gave chilling accounts of the spread of the blaze and residents’ desperate attempts to flee.

One witness told the Guardian she saw “someone jump on fire from the top floor”. She said the man was flashing a light in an SOS pattern. “He was screaming: ‘Help, help, help!’ but no one helped. He dashed a mattress out of the window. He was literally on fire and jumped.”

A Guardian reporter saw one man waving a blanket from his window and calling for help, as firefighters sprayed his window with water to try to douse the flames. People from neighbouring estates huddled outside in their pyjamas near the flaming building, some shouting: “Put your head out the window,” or telling the man to shout his flat number so they could guide the fire services to him.

One local resident, Victoria Goldsmith, told Sky News: “There [were] literally two people trapped at the top and they had mobile phones and they had the lights trying to flash them and signal people … They couldn’t get to them … the fire kept going and the lights went out. They are trying to get it under control. Its pretty horrendous.”

Jody Martin said he got to the scene as the first fire engine was arriving at Grenfell Tower. He told the BBC: “I grabbed an axe from the fire truck, it looked like there was a bit of confusion about what to do. I ran around the building looking for a fire escape and couldn’t see any noticeable fire escapes around the building. A lot of debris falling down. I eventually gained entry on to the second floor, and once I got to the corridor I realised there was so much smoke there.”

He added that, given the thickness of the smoke, he would be surprised if anyone could have left the building without assistance. “I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window … hearing screams, I was yelling everyone to get down and they were saying: ‘We can’t leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors’,” he said.

Flatmates Line Sterring, 23, from Denmark, and Isabel Afonso, 22, from Portugal, live in Testerton Walk, immediately adjacent to Grenfell Tower.

They first heard noises at about 1.30am, and ran downstairs where they were told there was a fire in the neighbouring building.

“There were people in the tower sitting on the window saying: ‘I’m going to jump down,’ and people yelling at them: ‘Don’t jump, they are coming,’” said Alfonso.

“A lot of neighbours were trying to help, some of the apartments have access by a kind of bridge to our building so people were helping people over the gate between them. Some people were helping a family of four people with a baby.”

As the flames spread around the building, said Sterring: “We could see people waving fairy lights and flags to show their position. At first people seemed calm but then you could see smoke coming out of the windows. When they saw the smoke they started panicking.

“We saw people in the second top window of the tower. There were four people screaming and shouting and then the window went completely dark from the smoke and that part of the building was covered in flames.

“The worst thing was seeing people stuck and you feel so useless. You are just watching people probably dying and the feeling of not doing anything, you just can’t do anything.”

Residents in neighbouring streets were told to evacuate because of debris falling from the tower and roads in the area, including the A40, were closed. There was no service between Hammersmith and Edgware Road on the Circle and Hammersmith and City tube lines.

Many of those who escaped the flames gathered at the nearby Rugby Portobello centre where they were given water, clothes and blankets.

Francis Dean, from Middlesex, was at the missing persons’ centre on Freston Road looking for his sister Zainab Deen, who was with her two-year-old son in her flat in Grenfell Tower on Tuesday night.

“I was on the phone to her, she was on the 14th floor. She came out of the flat and they told her to stay, but because that flat was on fire she went into the next flat, 113. She was in 115. I was telling her to use the stairs. She was a bit frightened, a bit afraid. But the firefighters were telling her to go back in.

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Source By https://www.theguardian.com
Video Source By CNN

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