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London fire toll reaches 30 dead amid warnings the count could still rise


Friday June 16, 2017
By Karla Adam and Griff Witte


Emergency workers wheel away a body from the fire-gutted Grenfell Tower in London on June 16, 2017. (Rick Findler/AP)

LONDON — The death toll in the London fire disaster rose to 30 on Friday as relatives and friends expanded frantic searches for missing loved ones amid warnings that the full extent of the tragedy still remains to be tallied.

“Sadly I do believe that those numbers will increase,” London Police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy told reporters. He said that 24 people were being treated in hospitals, including 12 in critical care.

Anger swelled, meanwhile, as survivors and others pressed for answers on whether inadequate safety systems or substandard construction material could have contributed to the blaze.

Cundy said that there was no indication that Wednesday’s fire was started deliberately, but investigators were still studying why the flames races so quickly through the 24-story building in west London.

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In the burned-out hull of Grenfell Tower, forensic teams and others picked through the  wreckage apartment by apartment in the 120-unit tower.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the scene accompanied by her grandson Prince William. Commentators compared her visit to a visit Thursday by the British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was criticized for not meeting survivors. But May was expected to visit survivors later Friday.

There is palpable anger on the streets that those in authority could have done more to prevent the disaster that has also sparked concerns that the blaze may not be the last such tragedy without dramatic changes to Britain’s public housing towers.

“Someone needs to be held accountable!” people shouted at London Mayor Sadiq Khan when he visited on Thursday to pay his respects.

As others shouted for legislation requiring that Britain’s aging public high-rises be retrofitted with sprinkler systems and multiple stairwells — which were lacking at Grenfell Tower — Khan said he shared their frustration and called for the government inquiry into the blaze to publish its initial findings by the end of the summer.

“We can't afford to wait many years for those answers,” he said.

Authorities said that they did not expect to find more survivors and that the number of people who are unaccounted for is “unknown.” But the posters bearing photos of children in bike helmets, young mothers and entire families testified to the fact that many remain missing.

“I really hope the number of fatalities does not reach triple figures,” said Cundy said Thursday.

Cundy said the recovery of bodies, assisted by sniffer dogs, may not be completed for weeks.

Grenfell Tower had been home to 500 people, among them the disabled, the poor and others seeking an affordable place to live in a city that’s increasingly unaffordable for all but the wealthiest.
May ordered a full public inquiry. to ensure that “this terrible tragedy is properly investigated.”

“We need to have an explanation for this,” she said. “We owe that to the families.”

Grenfell Tower residents had complained for years to the management organization — and to the borough council — that they feared that their building was unsafe.

The cause of the fire remains unknown. But attention among experts has focused on a 2016 refurbishment that could have contributed to the fire spreading so quickly. Witnesses said the blaze tore through the high-rise’s exterior cladding within minutes and seemed to offer a path for it to leap from floor to floor.

Bart Kavanagh, associate director at Probyn Miers, a forensic architecture firm that examines design defects, said the focus of the investigation may turn to how the cladding was installed.

He said that there are strict requirements in Britain on materials used in cladding and that there was no evidence that those rules had been flouted.

“But it isn’t only just the materials that matter — it’s the way they are put together,” he said.

The contractors involved in the renovation have said they believe their work was up to code, and the management organization has said it complied with Britain’s strict fire safety rules. 

But Khan said that there were critical concerns about a number of other tower blocks  in the British capital that were refurbished in a similar fashion.

“There are pressing questions which demand urgent answers,” he said.

David Lammy, a Labour Party lawmaker, went further, calling the disaster “corporate manslaughter.”

“This is the richest borough in our country treating its citizens in this way,” he told the BBC. “There should be arrests made, frankly.”

He said that his friend Khadija Saye, a 24-year-old photographer, is among those reported missing. She lived on the 20th floor with her mother.

“We grow more sad and bleak at every second,” he said.

As of late Thursday, more than $1.2 million had been raised to help those affected by the tragedy, while displaced residents were welcomed at area churches and mosques. Clothes, food and blankets continued to be brought to local collection points, with some overwhelmed by the generosity. A cardboard sign outside of one read: “No more donations please. Maybe in a few days.”

Just around the corner from the tower, a makeshift wall of condolences expressed people’s grief and defiance.

“Bonds formed in fire are difficult to break,” read one message.



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