London fire: Muslim charity leader describes tireless all-day rescue effort during Ramadan fast

At least 12 dead and 70 injured after huge blaze at Grenfell Tower

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The Independent Online

A Muslim charity leader became one of the first to react after the huge fire that engulfed a large block of flats in London, killing at least 12 people. 

Hundreds of firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, which broke out early on Wednesday morning.

At least 75 people are being treated in six hospitals around the capital following “terrifying” scenes.

Zia Salik, head of fundraising at Islamic Relief, told The Independent he had been awake when the building set alight. “I live in the area so I could see it from my window,” he said. 

Mr Salik immediately got to work from the moment he saw the blaze “at around 12.30am or 1am last night”. 

Working with local charities, Islamic Relief began to provide clothes, water and food for victims evacuated to community centres, mosques and churches across west London.

“There was a huge outpouring from the community to say ‘we want to do something’. So they’ve all just started to arrive at the mosque, we’ve just been trying to coordinate it. 

“I think the mosque underestimated the response they’d get. They had a small room for storage, which has now overflowed to outside.

“A lot of the families that were in the block at the time are Muslim families who are fasting and are still fasting. In emergency situations it’s not obligatory for people to fast, but the families have opted to fast, and for those who were not fasting we were ready to provide food and water.

“A lot of people that come to the mosque here have said that they know people that live there, they know friends of friends who were there. Everyone is connected to someone who lives in that block or in that area which is why the response here, hundreds of people all day have been coming in bringing whatever they can.

"When something like this happens sometimes you do feel a bit helpless but at the same time we know that some people have lost everything. They’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost their belongings, they’re going to be without shelter for the night.”

Local to Grenfell Tower says without Ramadan, more people would have died

Mr Salik said he planned to continue deep into the night, despite not having eaten any food or drank any water since dawn due to Ramadan, and in 26C temperatures. “I’m ok, it’s not a problem for us, we’re used to it,” he said.

“This will be all going on until the morning prayer, which is around 3am and then from tomorrow we’ll continue to keep working.”

West London residents have also been offering their homes to people displaced by the fire. 

Posting on social media, dozens of people living in the area any further afield posted messages of support, offering food clothes and a place to stay. 

Emma Freud, Red Nose Day director and broadcaster, joined local businesses and members of the public in offering support.

Freud, who lives with her family in Kensington, said: “If anyone needs help and a roof, please let me know. We live very near and can look after you." 

St Clement’s Church, which has been at the centre of the response, opened its doors to victims, while the Clement Attlee Estate Hall and Central Gurduara Sikh temple have also been offering their services.

Tony Fernandes, chairman of local football club Queens Park Rangers, was enquiring as to whether their Shepherd's Bush stadium could also be used as an evacuation centre. “Our community team will be mobilised. We will do whatever,” he said.

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