79 presumed dead in London ‘inferno’
5 formally ID’d
LONDON, June 19, (Agencies): Seventy-nine people are dead or missing and presumed dead following a devastating blaze in a London tower, police said Monday, as Britain held a minute’s silence for the victims.
“I’m afraid to say there are now 79 people that we believe are either dead or missing and I sadly have to presume are dead,” police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.
Police had earlier put the toll from Wednesday’s inferno at 58 presumed dead.
He said only five people had been formally identified so far by police. Officers had earlier warned that some may never be identified due to the condition of their remains. Cundy said the search and recovery operation was ongoing in the burnt-out 24-storey tower, which was built in 1974 and had received a major refurbishment that was completed last year.
“This is an incredibly distressing time for families and they have my commitment that we will do this as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.
Cundy promised an “exhaustive” criminal investigation into the fire that would also look at the refurbishment.
“We will go where the evidence may take us,” and do everything possible “to ensure that those responsible will be brought to justice,” he said.
“If I identify... an issue that is a risk to public safety, we will be sharing that immediately with the relevant authorities,” he added.
The fire has prompted warnings about fire safety risks in many other council tower blocks built in the same era.
Cundy warned that the toll of 79 people could change.
“I believe there may be people who were in Grenfell Tower that people may not know were missing and may not have realised they were in there on the night.
“Equally, there may be people who thankfully may have managed to escape the fire and for whatever reason have not let their family or friends or police know,” he said.
By the blackened Grenfell Tower, firefighters took off their helmets and stood still to observe the minute’s silence, some with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
Other emergency service workers stood with their hands behind their backs and their helmets on the ground. Distressed women were seen hugging after the silence.
London fire chief Dany Cotton told BBC radio that it might be “some days yet” before firefighters could say they have reached everyone in the building.
She also defended the fire service’s advice for people to stay in their flats during tower block fires, saying that having everyone evacuate from such blocks through a single staircase would cause further injuries and hamper efforts to put out smaller blazes.
She said firefighters did not know “why the fire spread in that absolutely unusual and extraordinary way”.
“Until we do that, we cannot look at anything other than staying with the same advice.”
The National Health Service said that 17 patients were still being treated in hospital, of whom nine remain in critical condition.
Prime Minister Theresa May was to chair another meeting of top officials in response to the tragedy.
London police on Sunday released images taken within the tower, saying conditions inside verged on the “indescribable”.
Photos and videos published by the Metropolitan Police show the gutted wreckage of apartments.
With blackened rubble strewn across the floor and exposed pipes, one room is unrecognisable as a home until a bath and sink come into view -- the dividing wall destroyed completely by the fire.
The remnants of an exercise bike, an oven and washing machine point to the lives of residents in the moments before the blaze.
The images were taken by a recovery team inside the 120 flats.
Meanwhile, for the last decade, engineers specializing in fire safety have worried about the hidden danger posed by the kind of insulated metallic skin that transported flames up a high-rise apartment building in London, killing dozens.
For the last decade, engineers specializing in fire safety have worried about the hidden danger posed by the kind of insulated metallic skin that transported flames up a high-rise apartment building in London, killing dozens.
Panels of the armor-like “cladding” have become a popular facade on tall buildings worldwide, both for their sleek look and energy-saving virtues. They also have helped fuel spectacular infernos in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the United States.
Some fire experts worry that, with energy efficiency a priority worldwide, the proliferation of “green” buildings has the unintended consequence of fanning fire danger. Though cladding can be flame-resistant, the result can be deadly when it is not.
“The good intent of sustainability translates into a potential fire safety problem,” said Brian Meacham, a fire protection engineering professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. His concerns began to crystalize in 2010, he said, when he was in South Korea presenting a paper on new technology and fire safety and a cladded high-rise burned.
At London’s Grenfell Tower, flames raced with alarming speed up 24 stories of cladding in which a plastic core was sandwiched between thin sheets of aluminum. That composite is one of several kinds of exterior paneling that helps moderate inside temperatures, saving on energy needed for heating and cooling.
The tower’s aging concrete facade received the face-lift last year as part of a 10 million pound ($13 million) publicly funded refurbishment effort aimed, in part, at making the building more energy efficient.
The tower, home to as many as 600 people, burned Wednesday. At least 58 people were confirmed or presumed dead, a tally that could rise.
Authorities are still investigating the fire. Its behavior strongly implicated the cladding, several fire safety experts said in interviews. Anger has mounted in the community following reports that contractors had used cheaper panels in which the plastic insulation was not fire-resistant.