Searching for survivors in London
First victim in highrise blaze identi ed as investigation begins
London firefighters combed through a burned-out public housing tower Thursday in a grim search for missing people as police and the prime minister launched investigations into the deadly inferno, with pressure building on officials to explain the disaster and assure that similar buildings around the country are safe.
At least 17 people were killed as flames raced through the 24-story Grenfell Tower early Wednesday, trapping people inside their apartments. Many people remained unaccounted for Thursday, and officials weren’t sure exactly how many were missing. But they expected the death toll to rise significantly.
London Police said an investigation had been launched to determine whether the blaze involved any crimes and Prime Minister Theresa May announced a public inquiry, a type of probe that’s used to investigate issues of major public concern. In addition, London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for an interim report on the fire to be published this summer.
“People deserve answers. The inquiry will give them that,” said May, the Conservative leader who set aside her efforts to form a new government Thursday to visit the scene of the blaze.
An angry crowd confronted Khan as he visited the high-rise.
“How many children died? What are you going to do about it?” asked 7-year-old Kai Ramos. As the boy pressed, the Labour politician pledged to get answers.
The tower is in the North Kensington neighbourhood, a working-class, multi-ethnic area next to some of the richest neighbourhoods in Britain. Some observers asked whether hazards in the Grenfell complex, which had 120 apartments that housed as many as 600 people, were ignored because its residents are mainly poor.
A tenant group had complained for years about the risk of a fire in the building, owned by the local government in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Fire safety engineers were stunned at how rapidly the fire spread, engulfing the building in less than an hour in the middle of the night and preventing firefighters from reaching many people inside. Some jumped to their deaths rather than face the flames, and witnesses reported seeing small children thrown from the tower by their families in a desperate bid to survive.
Firefighters trying to race into the building were protected from the falling debris by police officers who placed riot shields over their heads.
Queen Elizabeth II praised the firefighters’ bravery, and their commissioner noted the trauma they had seen. One officer was in tears after seeing someone plunge out a window, Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told Sky News.
“We like to think of ourselves as ‘roughty, toughty’ and heroes - they are heroes - but they have feelings. People were absolutely devastated by yesterday’s events,” Cotton said.
In addition to those killed, ambulance crews took 74 people to hospitals after the fire. Thirty were still hospitalized on Thursday, with 15 in critical condition.
The scorched facade of the Grenfell Tower in London, after a massive fire raced through the building.