SIX people have been confirmed dead in a devastating inferno in a 27-storey west London apartment building — but police say the death toll is expected to rise.
“Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this truly shocking fire at Grenfell Tower,” Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police, said.
“I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days. Many others are receiving medical care.”
A “significant” number of people were unaccounted for. As many as 600 could have been inside the 120-unit tower when the fire erupted just before 1am Wednesday local time.
Neighbour Mohammad Jamal, 27, told news.com.au he saw the fire take hold and tried to warn those in the tower’s upper levels to leave. He was shocked by what they told him.
“First we saw a lot of people at their windows screaming, a lot waving, using phones. Others who we yelled at to leave told us: ‘We’ve been told to stay’.”
He said he had no idea that the building opposite to his had a “policy” that encouraged residents to sit tight and wait it out when fire broke out. The worst part, he said, was that those on the upper levels couldn’t see how bad the fire was from their position. By the time they saw it coming, it was already too late.
“They couldn’t see it spreading,” he said.
Mr Jamal said others were oblivious to the danger as they slept through the fire.
“People were trying to throw rocks and stones at windows to wake them up,” he said.
The fire is still being brought under control. Seventy-four injured people were being treated at six hospitals and 20 are in a critical condition. Ten of those made their own way to hospital.
It’s still not clear what caused the fire. Locals have spoken about a fridge exploding on one of the lower floors, while others speculated that recently installed cladding may have fuelled the fire.
Firefighters react as a huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFPSource:AFP
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said firefighters arrived within six minutes to battle the blaze, which she called the worst she’d ever seen.
Police have not put a figure on the number of people missing, but anxious relatives and friends have started to post desperate messages on social media looking for their loved ones.
Harrowing accounts of trapped people screaming for help — with some jumping to the ground in desperation — have begun to emerge.
Residents who escaped the inferno were evacuated to nearby churches and community centres.
Kids from a nearby school came down to look for their missing friends. Among the missing, they say, are Georgina Smith, 12, her sister Kristina, 7, and Jessica Urbano, 12. A friend of the three, Asia Phillips, told news.com.au: “We’ve phoned, texted, snapchatted, and ran out of credit. Been calling but it just goes to voicemail.”
Firefighters are working to stabilise the building as crews still search for people inside. Engineers believe the building is safe for rescuers to enter to search for survivors, but a large exclusion zone has been set up amid fears it could collapse.
Elaine Lara lives on fourth storey of a building opposite the devastated tower. Through tears, she told news.com.au she was standing outside watching the fire engulf the building, powerless to help.
“I heard commotion outside at 1.30 and thought it was someone arguing. It was so intense that I went outside. It was a horrible scene, you could hear people screaming for help. You could hear a woman yelling: ‘Help, I have my kids’.
The smouldering Grenfell Tower. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
A person, bottom right, peers out of a window from the fire. Picture: APSource:AP
“Only in movies you see that sort of thing, not something you forget.”
She said she watched as residents tied sheets together to form a rope on the 10th floor.
“The screaming of people, it’s distressing to hear people calling out for help and you can’t do anything.
“There was somebody up there with a phone shining the light. You could see the fire spreading across. You really hope they got away but I feel deep down they didn’t.”
A police officer told news.com.au there could be survivors as trapped people could be seen in the windows in a section of the building that’s sealed off where the fire hadn’t spread to.
One man, Kamal Hassan, said his friend and his wife was one of those trapped inside with their three chidlen. “The phone is dead,” he told news.com.au near the scene.
Horrified onlookers said the inferno resembled “hell on earth” at its peaks, with huge flames engulfing the building.
“Haunting screams” could also be heard as hundreds of frantic firefighters battling the blaze.
Khalid Sarang, 23, lives in neighbouring block and said the scene was like “hell on earth”.
“There is a family of four trapped up there now screaming. The first thing I heard were the screams and I came running out.
“It’s like hell on earth.”
Smoke and flames rise from the building as dawn breaks. Picture: APSource:AP
The shocking scene many west Londoners are waking to.Source:AFP
The reports are all unconfirmed by authorities — who have only confirmed a number of injuries — but no deaths or even if anyone is trapped.
However, journalists at the scene report firefighters could be heard urging people not to panic and cover their mouths with wet towels to get out — and not just wait for rescuers. They were also being asked to shine torches or their mobile phones to help guide rescuers.
The fire safety advice to Grenfell Tower residents was to stay in their flats unless told otherwise.
The advice said: “The new front doors for each flat can withstand a fire for up to 30 minutes, which gives plenty of time for the fire brigade to arrive.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “truly devastated to see the horrific scenes” at the Grenfell Tower.
“My heart goes out to everyone affected. I am sad to confirm that we now know there have been fatalities ... The fire service is dealing with a rapidly changing situation and these numbers are likely to rise.”
Mr Khan said there would be many questions about the fire in the days ahead.
“I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers.”
The scale of the devastation is becoming clear as dawn breaks. Parts of the fire appear to have been extinguished, but flames can still be seen on many floors.
Number 10 has issued a statement about the Grenfell Tower fire.
“The Prime Minister is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Grenfell Tower and is being kept constantly updated on the situation.
“She has asked for a cross-government meeting at the civil contingencies secretariat to take place at 4pm to co-ordinate the response and ensure the government is ready to assist the emergency services and local authorities as necessary.
“The PM’s thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible incident and the emergency services, who are working tirelessly in very difficult circumstances.”
The smell of smoke was everywhere, news.com.au Europe reporter Victoria Craw said. “There are people everywhere, it’s pandemonium. The firefighters look exhausted.”
At least 200 firefighters in 40 engines are battling the blaze. The London Ambulance service has 20 crews at the fire, according to the assistant director of operations Stuart Crighton.
A woman who lives across the road from the burning tower, Celeste Thomas, tweeted she can see debris falling and hear loud “cracking” noises from inside.
The terrifying scene in west London. Picture: Natalie Oxford/TwitterSource:Twitter