One year later, Bri­tain re­calls Gren­fell Tower in­ferno that killed 72

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Jane Onyanga-Omara

LON­DON – A na­tion­wide si­lence across the United King­dom on Thurs­day will mark the first an­niver­sary of the dead­li­est tragedy the coun­try’s cap­i­tal has en­coun­tered since World War II.

Seventy-two peo­ple died af­ter a fe­ro­cious blaze broke out at Gren­fell Tower, a high-rise apart­ment block, on the night of June 14, 2017. Sheila Smith, an 84-year-old great-grand­mother, and a still­born baby named Lo­gan were among those killed.

A pub­lic in­quiry into the tragedy be­gan in May and is ex­pected to last about 18 months.

The fire caused prop­erty own­ers and fire in­spec­tors in the U.K. and nu­mer­ous other coun­tries to check the cladding on their build­ings to de­ter­mine whether they need to be re­placed. In Bri­tain, some build­ing own­ers have yet to re­move com­bustible cladding, lead­ing au­thor­i­ties to threaten to force them to take ac­tion.

In most of the U.S., alu­minum pan­els like those on Gren­fell are not used on high-rises be­cause of fire safety con­cerns. In the U.K., flammable build­ing ma­te­ri­als must pass tests if they are to be used on high-rises.

Amid the grief that has res­onated through the coun­try for the past 12 months, many res­i­dents are work­ing to en­sure some good emerges from the hor­rors of that fate­ful night.

Toby Lau­rent Bel­son is work­ing with Green for Gren­fell, a cam­paign started by lo­cal schools in North Kens­ing­ton — the area in west Lon­don where Gren­fell Tower stands — to en­sure the tragedy is never for­got­ten. A green heart has be­come a sym­bol of re­mem­brance of the in­ci­dent.

Bel­son, 41, has been fundrais­ing to il­lu­mi­nate Gren­fell Tower and 12 nearby high-rises from Thurs­day through Sun­day. The com­mu­nity artist said a cou­ple of his friends es­caped the fire a year ago, but one young friend died.

“It’s quite some bless­ing that through such hor­ror, peo­ple in the com­mu­nity have some­thing like this,” Bel­son said.

“Be­cause (the dis­as­ter) is a po­lit­i­cal is­sue, it’s great peo­ple have a space where they don’t have to get po­lit­i­cal. They can leave that be­hind,” he added.

The an­niver­sary comes days af­ter Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ex­pressed re­gret for not meet­ing with the sur­vivors when she vis­ited the scene of the blaze soon af­ter the fire.

The Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea Coun­cil, which owns Gren­fell Tower, was crit­i­cized for be­ing slow and dis­or­ga­nized in help­ing the sur­vivors af­ter the blaze – most of them work­ing class and from eth­nic mi­nori­ties – prompt­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to take over the re­sponse. There are ques­tions over whether Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea Coun­cil con­trib­uted to the deaths by in­stalling the flammable cladding to improve the ap­pear­ance of the aus­tere build­ing, rather than fire-re­sis­tant cladding, to save money.

Some former res­i­dents are still liv­ing in tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tions.

NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE

Trib­utes to the vic­tims of the Gren­fell Tower fire are dis­played in Lon­don on Wed­nes­day, the eve of the first an­niver­sary of the blaze.

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