Fury as death toll rises in London blaze

Angry locals lashing out at the authorities yesterday.
Angry locals lashing out at the authorities yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Firefighters fighting the blaze at Grenfell Tower. The social housing block is in a working-class enclave of the wealthy London borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The cladding used on the exterior walls of the tower block was not graded fire-resistan
Firefighters fighting the blaze at Grenfell Tower. The social housing block is in a working-class enclave of the wealthy London borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The cladding used on the exterior walls of the tower block was not graded fire-resistant. PHOTO: REUTERS

Residents of tower block accuse local council of neglecting safety of the poor

LONDON • With the death toll from a horrific fire at a London building rising to 30 and many residents still unaccounted for, there is palpable anger as people accuse the local authority of neglecting the safety of the poor in favour of policies favouring the interests of the rich.

At least 76 people are unaccounted for, according to media reports, although it was not known whether some of those were among the bodies recovered so far.

Police yesterday warned that some of the victims may never be identified because of the state of the remains. "We know that at least 30 people have died as a result of this fire... I do believe the number will increase," police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters in front of the charred building.

Earlier, Commander Cundy said of the death toll: "I'd like to hope that it isn't going to be triple figures."

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He said police had started a criminal investigation but there was nothing to suggest "that the fire had been started deliberately".

Locals yelled questions at London Mayor Sadiq Khan when he walked through the neighbourhood yesterday. "How many children died? What are you going to do about it?" a young boy asked as Mr Khan tried to stop tensions rising further.

Ms Alia Al-Ghabbani, a receptionist who lives in the estate, was among many angered by a recent refurbishment in which new cladding was added to the exterior of the building and which media reports said might have played a part in the rapid spread of the fire.

"It's really irritating why they prettied up the tower. It's because that tower was such an eyesore for these people in very expensive houses just opposite," she said.

For resident Soran Karimi, 31, who lives in the block opposite, it was nothing short of "murder" and "people should be prosecuted for this". The social housing block that went up in flames is situated in a working-class enclave of the wealthy London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

ANSWERS PLEASE

How many children died? What are you going to do about it?

A YOUNG BOY, asking Mr Sadiq Khan, as the London Mayor walked through the neighbourhood yesterday and tried to stop tensions rising further.

The cladding used on the exterior walls of the tower block was not graded fire-resistant. Its use is restricted in the United States, British media reported yesterday.

The aluminium cladding, called Reynobond, is banned for buildings higher than 12m in the US, far lower than the 24-storey Grenfell Tower that was consumed by the roaring blaze, according to a salesman for the company that manufactures it.

Prime Minister Theresa May has come under criticism for not meeting residents when she visited the site on Thursday to talk with emergency workers. She met injured survivors in hospital yesterday.

Mrs May has ordered a formal inquiry led by a judge into the disaster that turned the apartment tower into a smouldering ruin. She announced the inquiry shortly after Mr Khan, the Mayor, asked for one, and as questions arose about the role of Mr Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until last week. Mr Barwell lost his bid for re- election to Parliament and is now Mrs May's chief of staff.

Critics say a much-needed review of fire safety rules had languished under Mr Barwell's watch.

The disaster has prompted an outpouring of support and generosity, with shocked Londoners donating so many clothes, shoes and bedsheets that volunteers were soon overwhelmed.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for houses in the area to be "requisitioned" for the survivors. The area surrounding the council-owned tower has been plastered by desperate relatives with pictures of missing people, from grandparents to young children, and large numbers of volunteers assisting the survivors.

Queen Elizabeth and her grandson Prince William yesterday visited a community centre where some of the survivors are being housed.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline 'Fury as death toll rises in London blaze'. Print Edition | Subscribe