‘Chaos’ as tower blocks emp­tied

Bri­tish PM of­fers mes­sage of sym­pa­thy to res­i­dents.

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD -

A Lon­don com­mu­nity has be­gun evac­u­at­ing some 800 house­holds from five pub­licly owned apart­ment tow­ers be­cause of safety con­cerns fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing fire that killed 79 peo­ple in a west Lon­don high-rise last week.

The move comes as res­i­dents of thou­sands of tower blocks across Bri­tain ex­press con­cerns about safety, af­ter com­monly used build­ing ma­te­ri­als were blamed for rapidly spread­ing the blaze at Gren­fell Tower.

Cam­den Coun­cil in north Lon­don, which an­nounced the evac­u­a­tion yes­ter­day, is the first lo­cal gov­ern­ment to take the dra­matic step of emp­ty­ing its build­ings so safety up­grades can be made.

Coun­cil leader Ge­or­gia Gould said the bor­ough made the de­ci­sion af­ter the Lon­don Fire Brigade and coun­cil ex­perts said they could not guar­an­tee the safety of res­i­dents, af­ter in­spect­ing the five tow­ers. The in­spec­tors were fol­low­ing up on pre­vi­ously un­known safety com­plaints from res­i­dents, she said.

Pub­lic safety con­cerns have been prompted by ex­te­rior cladding known as alu­minum com­pos­ite pan­els, which are be­lieved to have rapidly spread the fire at Gren­fell Tower on June 14, trap­ping res­i­dents in their homes be­fore fire­fight­ers could save them.

Lo­cal coun­cils around Bri­tain are test­ing sim­i­lar pan­els on hundreds of their build­ings. Four­teen apart­ment blocks have so far tested pos­i­tive for com­bustible ma­te­ri­als.

But some res­i­dents of the Cam­den build­ings, col­lec­tively known as Chal­cots Es­tate, ex­pressed frustration with the lack of in­for­ma­tion they re­ceived about the evac­u­a­tions.

Ed­ward Strange, who lives on the 11th floor of the Taplow Tower, was on his way to the air­port when he heard about the evac­u­a­tion on the ra­dio and re­turned to find coun­cil work­ers di­rect­ing res­i­dents to a nearby com­mu­nity cen­tre, where they were of­fered airbeds on a bad­minton court.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May of­fered a mes­sage of sym­pa­thy to the af­fected res­i­dents, tak­ing to Twit­ter to pledge that she would work with rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to of­fer sup­port.

The coun­cil has en­cour­aged res­i­dents to stay with friends and fam­ily, but has promised to pro­vide tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion if this is not pos­si­ble. Re­pairs to the build­ing are ex­pected to be com­pleted within three to four weeks.

The coun­cil gave no­tice that it had con­cerns about the cladding on its build­ings on Fri­day, af­ter tests showed that the cladding ma­te­rial was not the fire-re­sis­tant va­ri­ety it had or­dered.

Chal­cots Es­tate res­i­dents spoke of their anger, fear and con­fu­sion over the evac­u­a­tion, with some say­ing they only found out by watch­ing tele­vi­sion news, , and ques­tion­ing the tim­ing of the op­er­a­tion, late on a Fri­day night.

Renee Wil­liams, 90, who has lived in Taplow Tower since 1968, said: ‘‘No of­fi­cial came and told us what’s go­ing on. I saw it on the TV, so I packed an overnight bag. But now they’re telling us we’re go­ing to be out of our homes for the next two to four weeks.

‘‘It’s un­be­liev­able. I un­der­stand that it’s for our safety, but they can’t just ask us to evac­u­ate with such short no­tice. There’s no or­gan­i­sa­tion, and it’s chaos.’’

Ahmed Mo­hamed, 19, who lives in Taplow with his par­ents and two sis­ters, said they were alerted by a neigh­bour aaround 8.15pm that they needed to leave.

‘‘It was a mess. We only had five min­utes to get our stuff. We had the meet­ing yes­ter­day, which I at­tended, and they told us noth­ing about this.’’

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, police said they were con­sid­er­ing fil­ing man­slaugh­ter charges over the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter.

In its most de­tailed brief­ing yet on the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Metropoli­tan Police con­firmed res­i­dents’ sus­pi­cions that the in­ferno was started by a re­frig­er­a­tor fire.

The depart­ment also said cladding at­tached to the 24-storey pub­lic hous­ing project dur­ing a re­cent ren­o­va­tion failed safety tests con­ducted by in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and that police had seized doc­u­ments from a num­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The gov­ern­ment has or­dered an im­me­di­ate ex­am­i­na­tion of the re­frig­er­a­tor model that started the blaze. McCor­mack said the Hot­point model FF175BP re­frig­er­a­tor­freezer had not been sub­ject to any prod­uct re­calls be­fore the fire.

Hot­point said yes­ter­day that ‘‘words can­not ex­press our sor­row at this ter­ri­ble tragedy’’, and that it was work­ing with au­thor­i­ties to ex­am­ine the ap­pli­ance.

The gov­ern­ment has called on all build­ing own­ers, pub­lic and pri­vate, to sub­mit sam­ples of cladding ma­te­rial used on their build­ings for test­ing. Sam­ples from 14 build­ings in Lon­don, Manch­ester and Ply­mouth have al­ready been found to be com­bustible.

The true num­ber of ‘‘hid­den victims’’ of the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter may never be known, police have warned as they con­firmed that the search of the ru­ins may not be com­pleted un­til the end of the year.

There are fears scores of un­doc­u­mented, un­of­fi­cial tenants may be among the dead but will not be recorded in the fi­nal toll.

De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Fiona McCor­mack, of the Metropoli­tan Police, ap­pealed yes­ter­day for any­one who knew of miss­ing peo­ple who were sub­let­ting or in the coun­try il­le­gally to come for­ward, re­gard­less of their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

The num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties, or those miss­ing pre­sumed dead, re­mains at 79. Police an­nounced yes­ter­day that three more male victims and one fe­male had been for­mally iden­ti­fied, bring­ing the num­ber to 13.

One up­lift­ing story came to light: a woman feared dead turned up alive in hos­pi­tal. Fad­umo Ahmed, 32, lived on the 19th floor. She had called her mother as the smoke closed in, say­ing: ‘‘I can’t get out. Good­bye.’’ Friends cir­cu­lated miss­ing person posters, un­aware that she had been car­ried out of the block by a fire­fighter who found her un­con­scious on the 18th floor.

REUTERS

Res­i­dents are evac­u­ated from the Taplow Tower res­i­den­tial block on the Chal­cots Es­tate in north Lon­don as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure fol­low­ing con­cerns over the type of cladding used on the out­side of the build­ing. Many res­i­dents have com­plained that they re­ceived no no­tice of the night-time evac­u­a­tion.

REUTERS

This Taplow Tower res­i­dent made sure she didn’t for­get her cat.

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