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25 Jun 2017 17:12
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  •   Home > News > International

    London tower fire: 12 deaths confirmed after giant blaze engulfs 24-storey Grenfell unit block

    Twelve people are dead and the toll is expected to rise after a giant fire destroyed a 24-storey London apartment block, with reports witnesses heard people crying for help and jumping from windows as the building was engulfed in flames.


    Fire has engulfed a 24-storey block of flats in central London, killing 12 people people, hospitalising at least 70 more and trapping some residents inside the towering inferno.

    London police said the death toll was expected to rise as crews worked to extinguish the fire.

    The London Fire Brigade said a structural engineer and rescue crews had assessed the stability of the building and believed it was not in danger of collapsing.

    Flames shot from windows all the way up the side of the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, which houses 120 homes, as firefighters battled the blaze, and a plume of smoke could be seen for several kilometres.

    London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton said 40 fire engines were sent to the "unprecedented incident", which broke out just before 1:00am and spread through the entire building from the second floor upwards.

    She said firefighters arrived within six minutes of receiving the first call about the fire and rescued "large numbers" of people over several floors. Several firefighters sustained minor injuries.

    Commissioner Cotton told reporters Wednesday at midday local time firefighters were still in the building, as authorities appealed for families to report anyone who was accounted for.

    The scale of the inferno means it could be days before it is clear how many victims were claimed by the blaze.

    Commissioner Cotton said she did not want to speculate about the cause of the fire or how it spread so rapidly to engulf the whole tower block.

    A structural engineer monitoring the stability of the razed building found it was safe for now and a search for people inside was continuing.

    Residents said it appeared to start in an apartment on a lower floor and spread upward quickly.

    There are grave concerns for residents who were at the top of the building when the fire broke out.

    One person could be seen looking out of a section of the building, just below a burnt-out floor, with a piece of clothing dangling from the window frame.

    More than 200 people live in the tower, but it was not clear how many people were inside.

    74 people were being treated in hospital, with 20 of them requiring critical care, London Ambulance Service said.

    'Just an inferno inside'

    An Australian man who identified himself as Jody told BBC Radio 5 he did not think anything could have been done to save some of the residents.

    He said most of the building was "burnt up".

    "Windows are broken, just an inferno inside," he said.

    "I could hear the people screaming 'help me', and nothing could be done. The building was too big."

    More than 200 firefighters were sent to the scene but Jody said they struggled to reach those inside the building, who were unable to leave.

    "People were looking down at all of the emergency crew and they were probably thinking, 'That's OK, I'm going to be saved, the fire brigade are here'," he said.

    "So they were trapped in their flats, it was too smoky in the corridors, and eventually the flames have come around the building and engulfed every flat.

    "The whole thing. Everyone from the top floor."

    He said he struggled to find an entrance to the building when he arrived about 1:00am and had to break an apartment window to get in.

    "I ripped through the window with the axe and I ran right around the building looking for an entrance, and there was only the one entrance which was the main entrance to the building, and debris was just falling down all around me," he said.

    "[There were] big, big chunks of sheet metal coming down hitting the ground."

    Resident group had warned of fire risk

    A resident action group had warned of the potential fire risk in the Grenfell Tower apartment block as far back as 18 months ago, saying a build-up of rubbish during development works posed a serious fire risk.

    Other residents said they had been advised they should stay in their flats in the event of a fire.

    The local council of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns the block, said its focus was on supporting the rescue and relief operation and the fire would be fully investigated.

    The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said questions will need to be answered over the safety of tower blocks across the city.

    "Across London we have many, many tower blocks and what we can't have is a situation where people's safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained," Mr Khan said.

    'We could hear people screaming'

    A woman who lived near the building said people could be heard screaming as the blaze quickly spread.

    "I could see it from my garden, it was just there, the left-hand side piece there, just a couple of floors, and over the hours it just spread and it's gone around the left of the building as well," she said.

    "I can't believe the way it's gone up so quick.

    "We could hear people screaming, 'Help me, help me', and flashing their phone lights to let people know they were there. There's nothing … you're just helpless."

    People at the scene spoke of being unable to reach friends and family who had been inside.

    Others said they could see people inside using flashlights and mobile phones to try to signal for help from higher floors.

    ABC/wires

    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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