Tower toll rises to 17 … Many missing
LONDON, June 15, (AFP): British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday ordered a public inquiry into the devastating London tower block fire which killed at least 17 people, with firefighters searching for bodies and dozens of people still reported missing. “We owe that to the families, to the people who have lost loved ones and the homes in which they lived,” said May, as firefighters said parts of the councilowned building in west London had become structurally unsafe. Announcement of the inquiry, an official review of action by public institutions, was followed by a Westminster meeting of MPs to discuss the fire. “People’s lives have been destroyed. They’ve lost their loved ones and their communities have been shaken to the core. They need answers,” said the area’s newly-elected MP Emma Dent Coad. Fellow London MP Harriet Harman urged politicians to pursue the inquiry quickly, warning Fire Minister Nick Hurd if they didn’t act “you and all of us are culpable”. Seventeen people have been confirmed dead and the number is expected to rise, with Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton telling Sky News there were still “unknown numbers” of people inside.
“Tragically now we are not expecting to find anyone else alive,” she said. The 24-storey Grenfell Tower was home to around 600 people when the fire ripped through the building before dawn on Wednesday. Whole families remain missing after the fire, which forced residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jump out of windows or even drop their children to safety. Around 35 appeals to find missing loved ones have been made in the press and on social media so far.
Police commander Stuart Cundy said police had managed to identify six of the bodies but “there is a risk that sadly we may not be able to identify everybody”. Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the tower’s 120 apartments in what fire chiefs said was an unprecedented blaze. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the tower on Thursday after the prime minister, said “some very hard questions must be answered” about how the fire took hold. “We have to get to the bottom of this — the truth has got to come out and it will,” he told volunteers at a local church. The focus of criticism centres on the cladding fitted to external walls on the 1970s concrete block as part of a £8.7 million refit ($11 million, 9.9 million euros) completed last year.
According to the BBC, the cladding had a plastic core and was similar to that used by high-rise buildings in France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, which had also suffered fires that spread. Rydon, the firm responsible for the refit, said the project “met all required building regulations”. Harley Facades, which fitted the panels, told the BBC: “At this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.” Grenfell Tower is part of a social housing estate in north Kensington, just streets away from some of the most expensive homes in the world in Notting Hill.