Anger boils over as London fire toll hits 30

Jun 16, 2017
Damage is seen to a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls Damage is seen to a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls LONDON:  Angry residents stormed local authority headquarters on Friday demanding justice as the death toll from the London tower block fire reached 30, with dozens more unaccounted for. Firefighters continued the grim search for human remains in the burnt-out shell of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, as anger grew over the use of cladding blamed for spreading the flames. Protesters stormed the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council offices, saying they wanted answers over Wednesday's disaster. "It was a death trap and they knew it," one person shouted as demonstrators swelled outside the building, with dozens going inside and clashing with police and security guards. "I have friends in the tower and they are not telling us anything," said Salwa Buamani, 25, who came with her three-year-old niece on her shoulders.

- May faces angry crowd -

Prime Minister Theresa May had come under criticism for not meeting residents when she visited the site Thursday to talk with emergency service chiefs. She faced cries of "coward" and "shame on you" as she returned Friday to meet survivors, residents and volunteers at a local church. Dozens of police officers had to hold back angry crowds and break up scuffles as her car drove off afterwards. She also met with injured survivors in hospital and announced a £5 million ($6.4 million, 5.7 million euro) fund for emergency supplies, food and clothing. "Everyone affected by this tragedy needs reassurance that the government is there for them at this terrible time -- and that is what I am determined to provide," she said. Earlier police announced that the number of confirmed deaths had risen from 17. "We know that at least 30 people have died as a result of this fire... I do believe the number will increase," police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters in front of the charred high-rise. Cundy said police had started a criminal investigation but there was nothing to suggest "that the fire had been started deliberately". He also said the last flames had finally been extinguished, two days after the fire broke out early Wednesday in a working-class enclave of the wealthy Kensington district. More than 70 people are unaccounted for, according to media reports, although it was not known whether some of those were among the bodies recovered so far. Police have warned some of the victims may never be identified due to the state of the remains. Cundy said one of the victims was a person who died in hospital. Twenty-four injured survivors are still being treated, 12 of them in critical care. Firefighters were using drones and sniffer dogs to search the building, saying some of the upper floors are still inaccessible to humans due to concerns about the stability of the structure.

- Queen visits survivors -

The area surrounding the council-owned tower has been plastered by desperate relatives with pictures of the missing, from grandparents to young children. Large numbers of volunteers are assisting survivors. Queen Elizabeth II and her grandson Prince William visited a community centre where some of the survivors are being housed. The government has ordered a judge-led inquiry into the disaster, which is under pressure to act quickly, as anger grows among local residents about allegations that fire safety concerns were ignored for years. "Something's gone drastically wrong," Communities and Local Government Minister Sajid Javid told BBC radio. Javid said inspections of similar buildings had been ordered, with particular attention to the modern cladding used to beautify and add insulation to ageing concrete and steel structures.

- Syrian refugee victim -

The fire forced residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jump out of windows or even drop their children from the building. One of the victims was named as Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee, who came to Britain in 2014 with his brother. "Mohammed undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK," the Syrian Solidarity Campaign said in a statement. Alhajali was a civil engineering student at West London University. "His dream was to be able to go back home one day and rebuild Syria," the campaign group said. A second victim named Friday was Khadija Saye, a 24-year-old photographer who had exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

- Questions over cladding -

Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the tower's 120 apartments. The focus is on the cladding fitted to external walls of the 1974 tower as part of an £8.7 million ($11 million, 9.9 million euros) refit completed last year. The cladding had a plastic core and was similar to that used by high-rise buildings in France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia which had also suffered fires that spread. The Times newspaper reported that the company that manufactured the cladding also made fire-resistant models that cost fractionally more than the standard version. Questions have also been raised over why there was no sprinkler system in the tower which could have helped stop the fire spreading, or any central smoke alarm system that would have woken sleeping residents. - AFP





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