London fire: Crews work through night at tower block – BBC News

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Media captionMany witnesses have been talking about how they escaped

Firefighters have worked through the night to dampen the deadly fire at a west London block of flats that killed 12 people and left many more missing.

Flames could still be seen inside the tower block as crews used lights to search the building floor by floor.

Sixty-five people were rescued after fire ripped through Grenfell Tower in north Kensington on Wednesday morning.

Police have warned the number of deaths is expected to rise, while PM Theresa May has promised a full investigation.

Thirty-four people remain in hospital – 18 of whom are in a critical condition.

Firefighters were called to the residential tower at 00:54 BST on Wednesday, at a time when “several hundred” people were thought to have been inside.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Dozens of people spent the night in makeshift rescue centres

The tower had around 120 flats. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Dozens of people left homeless by the fire have spent the night in makeshift rescue centres, while well-wishers have been signing a wall of condolence near the site.

Photographs have been left alongside messages for loved ones.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council said it had placed 44 households so far in emergency accommodation.

Cladding fires

Through the night, people have been donating food, clothes and blankets for those left without homes.

Bhupinder Singh, one volunteer handling donations, said: “It is times like this that the best of our community comes out. This is where you find out how good it is to live in England and how good it is to be a Londoner.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption People have been signing a wall of condolence, close to the tower

Questions have been raised about why the fire appeared to spread so quickly and engulf the entire building.

BBC Newsnight’s Chris Cook says the type of cladding on the outside of Grenfell Tower, installed in 2015, had a polyethylene – or plastic – core, instead of a more fireproof alternative with a mineral core.

Similar cladding was used in high-rise buildings hit by fires in France, the UAE and Australia, he said.


The missing

Image copyright Ana Ospina
Image caption Jessica Urbano Ramirez, 12, is believed to have become separated from her family

Appeals are being made on social media for news of friends and family who are still unaccounted for.

Among them is 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez, 66-year-old retired lorry driver Tony Disson and security guard Mo Tuccu, who was visiting friends in the tower to break the Ramadan fast.

An emergency number – 0800 0961 233 – has been set up for anyone concerned about friends or family.

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Media captionA local nurse ran towards the burning building to try and help victims

By Wednesday evening, almost all of the building had been searched but crews were still trying to put out “pockets of fire” in hard to reach places, London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Steve Apter said

Checks confirmed the building was not in danger of collapsing, London Fire Brigade added.

‘Baby thrown from window’

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Media captionThe man who filmed the fire: ‘We’re standing here helpless’

Survivors of the fire told how they defied official advice to stay put, and ran with their families down dark, smoke-filled corridors to get out of the building.

Michael Paramasivan, who lives on the seventh floor with his girlfriend and young daughter, said: “If we had stayed in that flat, we would’ve perished.”

Others were concerned that the smoke alarms did not go off.

Zoe, from the fourth floor, said: “The way the fire spread so quickly from the fourth floor, all the way up to the 23rd floor was scary.”

People in the street below described watching as a baby was thrown from a window, people jumped and climbed down the side of the burning tower using ropes made from bed sheets.

Jody Martin said: “I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window… hearing screams.

“I was yelling at everyone to get down and they were saying ‘We can’t leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors’.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Volunteers helped unload food deliveries near the tower block

Safety fears

Image copyright EPA
Image caption It is understood that ‘several hundred’ people would have been in the block when the fire broke out

Grenfell Tower underwent an 8.6m refurbishment as part of a wider transformation of the estate, that was completed in May last year.

Work included new exterior cladding and a communal heating system.

Grenfell Tower, North Kensington

  • 127 flats

  • 24 storeys

  • 20 residential levels

  • 4 mixed levels of community areas and residential flats

  • 2016 refurbishment completed

AFP

The 24-storey tower is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the council.

Before and during the refurbishment, the local Grenfell Action Group claimed that the block constituted a fire risk and residents warned that site access for emergency vehicles was “severely restricted”.

Policing and fire minister Nick Hurd said checks were now planned on tower blocks that have gone through similar refurbishment.

He said authorities discussed “a process whereby we seek to identify towers that might be in a similar process of refurbishment (and) run a system of checks and inspections”.

Image copyright Guilhem Baker/LNP
Image caption More than 250 firefighters helped rescue people and put the fire out

Construction firm Rydon, which carried out the refurbishment, said it was “shocked to hear of the devastating fire”.

It originally stated that the work “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards”.

It later issued a new statement, removing the previous mention of the building meeting fire regulation standards, instead saying the project met “all required building regulations”.

In a statement, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, said it was “too early to speculate what caused the fire and contributed to its spread”.

Council leader Nick Paget-Brown said the buildings were regularly inspected, but a “thorough investigation” was needed.

Politicians call for answers

The prime minister has promised a “proper investigation” into the fire.

But Labour politicians are calling for answers from the government. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We need to know what reports were available, what information was given and what actions were taken.”

A review of building regulations covering fire safety was promised by Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, last year, when he was a government minister, but has not been published.

Responding to earlier reports, the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was “simply not true” that a report has been “sat on”.

Following the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, in which six people died, the coroner recommended the guidance relating to fire safety within the Building Regulations was simplified.

The government said this work was “ongoing”.

The government also wrote to councils encouraging them to consider retro-fitting sprinklers, as recommended by the coroner, a statement said.

Southwark Council was fined 270,000 for breaching fire safety regulations after the Lakanal House blaze.

Image caption Refurbishment work completed in 2016 included more residential areas in the four lower ‘podium’ levels

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