British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised a public inquiry into a fire that gutted a 24-story apartment block killing at least 17 people, as the government faced questions about how such a devastating blaze could have occurred.
Smoke was still wafting out of the blackened shell of the Grenfell Tower on Thursday where specialist firefighters and dog search teams faced hazardous conditions as they scoured the wreck, with external cladding still falling from the building.
Fire engulfed the social housing block, where as many as 600 people lived in more than 120 apartments, in the early hours of Wednesday, turning it into a flaming torch in minutes.
“Sadly I can confirm that the number of people that have died is now 17,” London police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.
He said that number was expected to rise and firefighters, who rescued 65, have said they did not expect to find any more survivors. Asked if the final figure would be in double or triple digits, Cundy said: “I’d like to hope that it isn’t going to be triple figures.”
He said the search of the gutted block might take months and some victims might never be identified. Thirty-seven people remained in hospital, with 17 of them in critical care.
“Our absolute priority … is identifying and locating those people who are still missing,” Cundy said.
An investigation into the cause of the blaze, the worst in the British capital in a generation, was underway. But the shock at its scale turned to anger and recriminations on Thursday.
Accounts of people trapped inside as the blaze destroyed everything around them, shouting for help, throwing children to safety and trying to escape through windows using makeshift ropes from bed sheets tied together left the nation in shock.
“It was so preventable, and that’s why we’re so angry,” said Alia Al-Ghabban, a veterinary receptionist who lives on the estate. “We thought there were going to be riots last night, and if it didn’t (happen) last night, it will very soon.”
Opponents of May’s government demanded to know whether more could have been done to prevent the disaster, if building precautions such as fire doors had been properly implemented and if spending cuts to local authorities had played a part.