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At least 12 killed in overnight London fire, death toll may increase

Gurdwaras, local residents and others across London offered shelter and help survivors, some of whom managed to escape after slithering down the building with the help of bed-sheets tied together.

world Updated: Jun 15, 2017 11:38 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London

Firefighters direct jets of water onto a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. A fire ripped through a 24-storey block of flats in west London early on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and trapping dozens of residents, some of whom were seen throwing children from windows in the hope they survive the blaze. (Toby Melville / Reuters)

A 24-storey block of flats in west London was reduced to a smouldering shell after a blaze that began in the early hours of Wednesday killed at least 12 people, critically injured 20 and left hundreds of families traumatised.

There were harrowing scenes and accounts of children being dropped from windows in the hope that they would survive – at least one child was caught safely on the ground below. Fire fighters scoured the wrecked Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, through the day.

The blaze began around 1 am UK time and quickly spread, confirming apprehensions of local residents who had cautioned authorities months ago that the structure was a fire hazard.

A remote controlled aerial platform pours water onto any remaining fires inside a high rise apartment block in London. ( AP Photo )

The north Kensington tower resembled a giant blazing chimney with smoke billowing against the skyline at dawn, spreading ash, smoke and debris around. The death toll was expected to increase, the police and London fire brigade said.

Gurdwaras, local residents and others across London offered shelter and help to survivors, some of whom managed to escape after slithering down the building with the help of bed-sheets tied together amid screams and appeals for help.

The incident also had its impact on politics — no announcement was to be made about the ongoing coalition talks between the Democratic Unionist Party and the minority Theresa May government in view of the fire, DUP and Conservative Party sources said.

The fire brigade called it an “unprecedented situation”, while London mayor Sadiq Khan promised to ask questions why the usual strict fire safety measures in the country were not followed in the building. A review of all such buildings was also planned.

People affected by the fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower, a residential block sit on the pavement outside a temporary aid centre in west London. ( AFP )

The Indian high commission set up an emergency helpline number, but there were no reports of any Indian citizens affected.

“Sadly I can confirm that there are now 12 people who have died, that we know of, this is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12,” Police Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

London fire brigade commissioner Dany Cotton said: “Over 200 firefighters and officers are attending this incident, with 40 fire engines and a range of other specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue units in attendance.”

Khan said questions needed to be answered about the fire advice given to residents: “One of the concerns that we have is it’s a 24-storey building but for obvious reasons, with the scale of the fire, our experts weren’t able to reach all the way to the top, so of course these are questions that need to be answered as soon as possible.

“It’s very distressing, not just for those of us watching as lay people, but also very distressing for the emergency services. We declared a major incident very early, which meant not just the fire service but also the London ambulance service, the police and the others were involved at the scene,” he told BBC Radio 4.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Jun 14, 2017 21:08 IST