Grief and sorrow at the Grenfell Tower, as a deadly overnight fire raced through a 24-story apartment tower in London on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and injuring 74 others, police said. As fears mounted that the death toll could rise above 100, senior politicians who visited the scene were asked to explain why a series of loopholes had left the inhabitants vulnerable, despite repeated warnings over the last 30 years.
“The flames, I have never seen anything like it, it just reminded me of 9/11,” said Muna Ali, 45. “The fire started on the upper floors … oh my goodness, it spread so quickly. It had completely spread within half an hour.”
“This is an unprecedented incident,” Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters. “In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never, ever seen anything of this scale.” She said she feared more victims would be found still inside the building. There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but angry residents said they had warned local authorities about fire issues at Grenfell Tower. The subsidized housing block of 120 apartments was built in 1974 and was recently upgraded at a cost of 8.6 million pounds ($11 million), with work finishing in May 2016, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Samira Lamrani, a witness, said one woman dropped a baby from a window on the ninth or 10th floor to people on the sidewalk.
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The inferno lit up the night sky and spewed black smoke from the windows of the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, where more than 200 firefighters battled the blaze. A plume of smoke stretched for miles (kilometers) across the sky after dawn, revealing the blackened, flame-licked wreckage of the building, which was still burning over 12 hours later.
People trapped by the quickly advancing flames and thick smoke banged on windows and screamed for help to those watching down below, witnesses and survivors said. One resident said the fire alarm did not go off.
Police commander Stuart Cundy gave the death toll of six but added the figure was likely to rise “during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days.” Paul Woodrow, head of operations for the London Ambulance Service, said 20 of the injured were in critical condition.
The Grenfell Action Group, a community organization formed to oppose a nearby redevelopment project, has been warning about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013. The group has raised concerns about testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site. “All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time,” the group said after the fire broke out.
A quick-thinking mother caught in the Grenfell Tower inferno saved her family by flooding her 11th floor flat. Natasha Elcock, 39, was trapped was trapped along with her six-year-old daughter and boyfriend as the building was engulfed in flames. With the fire sweeping up the building Ms Elcock and her family had been told to stay put.
But she acted swiftly rushing into the bathroom and turning on the taps. “I let the bathroom flood. It kept the flat damp. It may have saved our lives,” she told the Daily Star.
She was trapped in the flat for 90 minutes before the phone rang again telling her to make her escape. “We tried the door but it was too hot. We had our little girl on the wet floor and we went to the coldest room. “The door was buckling and the windows bubbling and cracking. It was terrifying.”
She rang for help nearly 100 times and at one point was transferred to a call centre in Glasgow. Eventually, a fire crew reached them and they were led to safety before being taken to hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation.