Frantic people leap to their doom in bid to escape flames
At least twelve people were killed yesterday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with terrified people leaping from the 24-storey tower.
Parents wrapped wet towels around their children as they desperately tried to escape from the Grenfell Tower, with at least one person seen waving a piece of white cloth from an upper floor as flames ravaged the building.
“I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12,” police commander Stuart Cundy said.
“Sadly I don’t anticipate that there will be further survivors.”
He described the fire as truly shocking.
Seventy-eight people were being treated in hospitals, 18 of whom are in a critical condition..
The alarm was raised just before 1am and, within an hour, flames had engulfed the entire block.
Residents claimed the fire was spreading on the exterior of the tower, which had been covered in cladding in a major refurbishment completed last year.
More than 16 hours on, flames could still be seen inside the charred building as thick, black smoke filled the sky.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said firefighters were only able to reach the 12th floor at the height of the blaze.
“A lot of people are unaccounted for,” he said.
Nick Paget-Brown, leader of the Kensington and Chelsea local authority, said several hundred people would have been inside the block.
London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton said the building’s structure was stable enough for fire crews to work inside.
“We rescued a large number of people from inside the building very early on and firefighters managed to reach the 19th and 20th floors. “We are making steady progress.” Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from the building, a 1970s local authority-built block in the working-class north Kensington area.
People watched in horror as neighbours found themselves trapped, or in desperation leapt to their doom as flames raced through the stricken building.
Witnesses said they heard screaming from the upper floors as the flames raced up the tower.
“I saw people jumping out of their windows, the building was literally on fire, the ambulances, the police. It was horrendous,” Khadejah Miller, who was evacuated from her home nearby, said.
Two witnesses said they saw children dropped by their parents into the arms of people on the ground.
One said a baby was dropped from the ninth or 10th floor, and a five-year-old boy was dropped from a fifth or sixth floor window. Both were caught by bystanders. Amanda Fernandez, 31, was evacuated from a different part of the housing estate.
“When you live around here, you know people,” she said.
“To stand helpless watching the fire and counting the floors, and thinking, ‘Who lives on that floor? Who lives on that one?’ Most of the people I know lived higher than the 10th floor.”
Others reported seeing cellphone lights and white cloths, and hearing screams for help from the windows, as the flame rose through the building at astonishing speed.
Adi Estu, 32, who was in her pyjamas and a coat, said: “I saw people flashing their lights for help, families flashing their cellphones like a torch.
“But the smoke covered them and then the fire destroyed everything. We saw them dying. How can you forget that?”
Hanan Wahabi, 39, said she escaped with her husband, 16-year-old son, and eight-year-old daughter, but feared for her brother and his family who lived on the 21st floor.
“Last time I saw him they were waving out of the window, his wife and children,” she said.
Wahabi’s husband, Salah Chebiouni, 45, said he was in the kitchen when “I saw fire outside my window. The fire was on the outside, not the inside”.
Frantic families attempted to call their loved ones, fearing they could be stuck inside, and were being directed by police to a nearby restaurant where some of the injured were being treated.
The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and more than 200 firefighters had been working on the blaze.
The apartment block had recently undergone a major refurbishment, including a new heating and hot water system and new cladding on the outside.
Residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during the improvement works.
“The potential for a fire breaking out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about, as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out,” blog post by the Grenfell Action Group said.
Some residents said the official advice was that people should stay inside in the event of a fire.
Khan said the advice would be looked into.
“We can’t have a situation [where] people’s safety is put at risk because of bad advice,” he said.
Some evacuated residents found refuge in nearby St Clement’s Church and sat dazed on the pews as volunteers handed out food and drink.