Death toll to rise after Grenfell Tower fire

London mayor orders checks on other buildings as firefighters continue to tackle blaze, which has killed at least 12.

Grenfell fire London
London's Mayor Sadiq Khan said the death toll from Wednesday's fire is expected to rise [Toby Melville/Reuters]

The death toll from a tower block fire in West London is expected to rise as rescue workers continue to tackle the blaze a day after it started.

At least 12 people died and more than 70 were injured after a fire broke out inside Grenfell Tower just after midnight on Wednesday with the number of dead expected to jump, according to the city’s mayor.

“Sadly, it has been confirmed that 12 people are now known to have died as a result of the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower, a figure which I am afraid is expected to increase,” said Sadiq Khan in a statement published on his website.

Khan also confirmed that checks would also be carried out on other similar tower blocks to ensure they were not at risk.

Emergency services battled throughout the day to put the fire out but late into Wednesday the blackened husk of the building, where up to 600 people are believed to have lived, continued to glow orange because of the flames inside. 

As many as 600 people are believed to have lived in the building [Natalie Oxford/AFP]
As many as 600 people are believed to have lived in the building [Natalie Oxford/AFP]

Details are still emerging about the desperate attempts made by residents to escape the high-rise, as well as questions about whether safety regulations were neglected by local authorities in the run-up to the fire.

Sarmad Ismail, a resident of a nearby building, told Al Jazeera he saw a man in the tower trying to get the attention of those outside.

“I remember one Chinese or Asian man still stuck and he was just waving his trousers out the window,” Ismail said. “Nobody was helping him.. It was shocking and it still hasn’t sunk in.”

By Wednesday morning, police had cordoned off the area and crowds of people gathered outside trying to get word about friends and family members who are missing.

Mia, a student, who also lived in the surrounding neighbourhood, said one of her friends died in the blaze. 

“My friend’s name was Yasin, he was pretty well known around the area,” she said, adding “I knew he went missing last night when news of what was happening was coming out.

“This morning I woke up to the news that they found him… I don’t know exactly how he died.”

On social media sites, family members posted pictures of their loved ones missing after the fire desperately pleading for information about their whereabouts.

However, few families have had the closure of knowing what happened as firefighters continue to work their way up the tower.

Questions on safety

Focus in the British media has fallen on what could have been done to prevent the tragedy, especially as news emerged that residents’ groups had warned about the failings inside the tower.

Before the fire, the Greenfell Action Group published numerous blog posts dating years back about how Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which runs the building, had not put into place adequate safety measures. 

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

by Grenfell Action Group statement

“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders,” members of the group said in a blog dated November 2016.

In its most recent post, published just hours after the fire started, it wrote: “ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

Others familiar with the building shared the sentiment, including local charity worker Nads, who was coordinating the distribution of food and other essentials to emergency workers when he spoke to Al Jazeera.

“I’ve been in to that block a lot, I know that block very well. It’s always had issues, always had health and safety issues, the fire alarms have never been working,” he said, adding he was “certain” the fire started because of a faulty fridge.

“The fire started on the fourth floor from a fridge, I can be sure of that because I know the neighbour.

“I’ve spoken to the guy who had the fire in his fridge, knocked on his neighbour’s door telling him to get out of his house and help him. The fire spread so quickly that they all left.”

Criticism has also been levelled at the government for not doing enough to enforce safety requirements in buildings.

Community support

Like Nads, many in the local community are doing all they can to support those affected by the incident.

Amid the reports of families lost and others made homeless, stories have also emerged of Londoners going out of their way to save others.

In one video shared on Twitter, a woman praised local Muslim youths for raising the alarm and helping to evacuate residents while they were returning from nightly prayers during Ramadan.

In the adjoining Notting Hill and Kensington areas, churches and mosques opened up their doors to donations of food, nappies, toys, sanitary products, and clothes.

Roads normally congested by commuters and parents picking up children from school were instead full of cars and vans packed to the brim with plastic bags and suitcases carrying supplies for those who had lost everything.

At the Al Manar mosque near the area of Ladbroke Grove, Londoners abandoned their cars in side streets hundreds of metres away to take bags by foot.

Omar Salha, one of those coordinating at the mosque, told Al Jazeera the response was “overwhelming”.

“It’s mainly Muslims in this area, but people from all across the community have turned up,” he said.

“We’ve had Sikh people turn up to the mosque and stay on to help, and we’ve had people who are not of the Islamic faith turn up.”

Salha said many of those who had lost their homes had been taken to shelters run by the local council but would be needing more than just basic supplies over the coming days.

“Some of the residents left the tower without any shoes and barefoot, they’re basically homeless… Just imagine having no place to sleep this evening.

“It’s a state of shock to be honest.”

London fire: At least 12 dead in high-rise blaze

Source: Al Jazeera