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grenfell tower

London fire: Death toll rises to 12 following tower block blaze

Almost 70 people have been taken to hospital as firefighters continue fighting the blaze.

Updated at 5.15pm / YouTube

TWELVE PEOPLE HAVE been confirmed to have died after a massive fire ripped through a 24-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of this morning, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze.

“This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation, and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities are likely to increase above those 12,” the Met Police’s Commander Stuart Cundy said this afternoon.

Commander Cundy said that emergency services are carrying out “a complex recovery operation” which is likely to last a number of days.

Tower block fire in London PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

“It is very important we identify and account for everybody. Our priority is clearly those that would have been residents of  Grenfell Tower.”

Witnesses said they heard screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose in the night and one desperate resident could be seen waving a white cloth from a top floor window.

The London Ambulance Service has confirmed that 69 people have been taken to six London hospitals for treatment. It has said that 18 people are currently in “critical care” in hospital. Most people are being treated for smoke inhalation.

Tweet by @/Twitter /Twitter /Twitter

Speaking to Sky News, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that there were “a lot of people” still unaccounted for.

Britain London Fire Matt Dunham AP / PA Images Matt Dunham AP / PA Images / PA Images

Dany Cotton, the London Fire Brigade Commissioner,  called it “an unprecedented incident” and unlike anything she had seen in her 29-year career.

Cotton said a structural engineer is monitoring the stability of the building, and it is not believed that it is at risk of collapsing at this time as fire crews continue to work inside the tower block.

It is not yet known what caused the fire, and Cotton said it would “be wrong to speculate on the cause at this early stage”.

RT / YouTube

Hours after the alarm was first raised at around 1am, flames could still be seen on several floors of the blackened residential building, which was shrouded in a cloud of thick black smoke.

Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from Grenfell Tower, a 1970s block in the working-class north Kensington area – a short distance from Notting Hill.

Britain London Fire Matt Dunham AP / Press Association Images Matt Dunham AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Frantic families at the scene attempted to call their loved ones, fearing they could be stuck inside, and were being directed by police to a nearby restaurant where some of the injured were being treated.

The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to the blaze in Grenfell Tower, which has 120 flats.

Dany Cotton said that the first call was made at 12.54am, and the first fire brigade arrived six minutes later. She said that firefighters are working to rescue people in “extremely challenging and difficult conditions”.

PastedImage-10789 London Fire Brigade / Twitter London Fire Brigade / Twitter / Twitter

“Fire is from 2nd to top floor of 27 storey building,” the fire service said on Twitter.

Firefighters at the scene said they had managed to evacuate residents up to the 11th floor.

Police were also clearing out nearby buildings because of fears about falling debris and shut down a section of the A40 highway – a normally busy thoroughfare into London.

A London Underground line passing the area near Latimer Road station was also shut down.

Missing people

A missing persons centre has been set up at nearby Freston Road.

A number of people have been reported missing following the fire, including local artist Khadiya Saye.

She is believed to have been living on the 20th floor of the building with her mother.

Labour MP David Lammy tweeted asking for help in tracing his “dear friend” Saye.

Lammy’s wife Nicola Green said that she last heard from Saye at around 3am this morning. Saye had told her “Please pray for me. There’s a fire in my council block. I can’t leave the flat.”

Francis Dean, who is looking for his sister Zainab, told The Guardian that he is worried for her and her two-year-old son.

He said: “It’s not looking good because I was chatting to her about 4am and she was trapped and there was smoke. At one point the son collapsed because of the smoke and I told her: you have to give him mouth to mouth.”

Actor and director Noel Clarke is one of many appealing on social media for information on 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez, who is also missing at this time.

“I have seen people jump”

Witnesses have been describing what they saw as the fire quickly engulfed the apartment block, with a number of them saying people jumped from apartment windows to escape the blaze.

“They were trapped. They couldn’t come downstairs, especially from the top floor … people have been burned,” a witness identified as Daniel told BBC Radio London.

I have seen it with my own eyes. And I have seen people jump.

Samira Lamrani told the Press Association that she saw a woman try to save a baby by dropping the child from a window “on the 9th or 10th floor” and the baby was caught by members of the public below.

“A woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby,” she said.

Somebody did and a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby.

Another witness named as Jody Martin told the BBC that he battled his way to the second floor only to encounter choking smoke.

“I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window… hearing screams, I was yelling everyone to get down and they were saying ‘We can’t leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors’,” he said.

Hanan Wahabi, 39, told AFP she escaped with her husband and son, 16, and daughter, 8, but feared for her brother and his family who live on the 21st floor.

“Last time I saw him they were waving out the window, his wife and children,” she said, sitting outside the Rugby Portobello community centre.

“I’ve not heard from them since, the phone is not going through, the landline isn’t going through. That was about 2:00 am,” she said.

Eddie, 55, who lives on the 16th floor, said he ran out of his house with a wet towel wrapped around his head as smoke engulfed the flat.

“You couldn’t see anything. I just ran down the stairs… Loads of people haven’t got out of the building,” he said.

BBC reporter Michael Cowan tweeted a picture of what appears to be a charred piece of homework that fell from the smoke cloud around the tower.

Tweet by @Michael Cowan Michael Cowan / Twitter Michael Cowan / Twitter / Twitter

A resident identified as Mickey told the BBC that he woke up at around 1.30am and could “smell plastic”. He opened a window to smoke a cigarette and said he heard people shouting “it’s getting bigger, it’s getting bigger”:

I ran back in and grabbed my little girl… ran outside and looked up and it was ablaze. It was like a horror movie.

Actor and writer Tim Downie, who lives nearby, said: “It’s horrendous. The whole building is engulfed in flames. It’s gone. It’s just a matter of time before this building collapses”.

“Co-operate with authorities”

Rydon, the firm that carried out recent work to the exterior of the building, has released a statement about the incident.

It said: “Rydon completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the Council, which met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards.

We will cooperate with the relevant authorities and emergency services and fully support their enquiries into the causes of this fire at the appropriate time.

‘It’s horrendous’

“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Dan Daly said.

“This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances,” he said.

London mayor Sadiq Khan also declared it a “major incident”. In a statement he said wanted to “reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers”.

“I want to thank our incredible firefighters and emergency services for their immense courage, dedication and professionalism,” he said.

A number of residents from nearby homes have been evacuated as a precaution. An emergency rest centre has been opened for evacuees at the Harrow Centre on Freston Road, a five minute walk away from Grenfell Tower.

Police are also advising people to make it known that they are safe at the local Rugby Portobello centre.

Britain London Fire Matt Dunham AP / PA Images Matt Dunham AP / PA Images / PA Images

Police said in a statement they were called at 1:16am “to reports of a large fire at a block of flats in the Lancaster West Estate”.

Local residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during improvement works.

lfb London Fire Brigade / Twitter London Fire Brigade / Twitter / Twitter

“This matter is of particular concern as there is only one entry and exit to Grenfell Tower during the improvement works,” read a blog post by the Grenfell Action Group.

“The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out,” it said.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she is “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Grenfell Tower”. An announcement was expected on an agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP to support the former’s government today, but this has been postponed.

President Michael D Higgins has sent his condolences to those affected by the fire this morning.

 With reporting from © AFP 2017 and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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