A west London community has been left reeling and searching for answers after an “unprecedented” blaze ripped through a tower block, killing at least a dozen people and injuring scores more.
Emergency services worked through Tuesday night and the following day to rescue survivors and extinguish the large flames, which were still alight in parts of the building 18 hours later.
Firefighters were called to the 24-storey block in Latimer Road, near Notting Hill, at 12:54am and arrived to find the blaze spreading at a rate “greater than expected”, prompting early calls of a major incident, which saw 250 firefighters tackling the flames at the height of the inferno and the rescue of 65 people.
Sixty-eight people were taken to six hospitals across the capital and 10 made their own way there, according to the London Ambulance Service, which had more than 100 clinicians and specialist teams working on site throughout the day. Eighteen of those in hospital were critically injured.
Metropolitan Police meanwhile confirmed on Wednesday evening that 12 people were confirmed to have died in the blaze, adding that the figure was “likely to rise”.
Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters: “Sadly I can confirm that there are now 12 people that have died that we know of.
“This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12.”
He added that the fire was “of a precedence we have not seen in London for many, many years”, with Met Police call handlers having received hundreds of calls.
Emergency services were unable to indicate how many people remained unaccounted for, but there were believed to be 400 and 600 people living in Grenfell Tower, and the building is thought to have 120 homes inside.
The Metropolitan Police set up a casualty bureau hotline for people concerned about loved ones, using the numbers 0800 0961 233 or 020 7158 0197. Facebook activated its safety check-in feature.
London Fire Brigade’s Steve Apter told reporters the fire was “unprecedented in terms of scale speed and spread”, and that the firefighters were preparing to tackle the incident through Wednesday night.
“At its height over 40 appliances and over 250 fire fighters were tackling what was a serious and significant fire. This was an unprecedented fire in terms of scale speed and spread,” he said.
“This continues to be a challenging incident for us. I’m proud of the efforts of our firefighters for bringing this blaze under control.”
He said firefighters had managed to reach all floors the building, but made clear that this did not constitute a full search. A number of firefighters suffered minor injuries, he added, before praising their “professionalism and dedication”.
The cause of the blaze is so far unknown, but several residents reported one man had said it started in his faulty fridge.
It has emerged that the insulation material used in a refurbishment of the structure completed in May last year, at a cost of £8.6m, “will burn if exposed to a fire of sufficient heat and intensity”, according to its manufacturer. There were fears on Wednesday night that similar cladding may have been used in other buildings.
Residents have expressed anger that previous warnings about the safety of the building fell on “deaf ears” when flagged up the council. Resident association Grenfell Action Group had highlighted issues with evacuation procedures, warning that there was only one entry and exit to the tower during improvement works at the block and that “only a catastrophic event” would expose the problems.
Kensington and Chelsea Council admitted it received complaints over the refurbishment of a west London tower block. When asked whether the council had received complaints and was acting on them, leader of the council Nick Paget-Brown said it was "undoubtedly the case that the council received some complaints about the way the work was being conducted".
The council, which established an emergency centre for evacuees at the Harrow Centre, a short walk from the burning tower, said in a separate statement: "At present all our focus is on supporting the rescue and relief operation. The cause of the fire will be fully investigated."
Construction firm Rydon, which completed a refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in 2016, said it was “shocked to hear of the devastating fire” adding that the work “met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards”.
Witnesses of the disaster described terrifying scenes including of people jumping from their flats.
“I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window ... hearing screams, I was yelling everyone to get down and they were saying 'We can't leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors',” one told the BBC.
Another, called Samira, told BBC News: “I think the speed of the fire was the most shocking thing for everyone, how quick it literally went from zero to 100." She claimed she had seen “a lot of people jumping out that basically didn't make it”.
Actor and writer Tim Downie, who lives about 600m from the scene, said: “It's the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. I just hope they have got everyone out. The first I knew was the noise of sirens, helicopters and shouting. I saw it engulfed in flames.
“People have been bringing water, clothes, anything they've got to help, out to the cordon.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “It's very distressing, not just for those of us watching as lay people, but also very distressing for the emergency services.
“I will be demanding answers and I can assure you I will be ensuring there is independence in relation to it. The reassurance we need is to make sure lessons are learned and also if – and this is a big if – if there are mistakes made, we want to make sure we learn from them.”
More than 100 police officers were on scene, alongside 100 medics and 250 firefighters, he said.
Pressed on reports that residents had been advised to stay inside their flats in the event of a fire, Mr Khan said: “Thankfully, residents didn't stay in their flats and fled to safety"One of the concerns that we have is it's a 24-storey building but for obvious reasons, with the scale of the fire, our experts weren't able to reach all the way to the top, so of course these are questions that need to be answered as soon as possible."
Theresa May said there would be a “proper investigation” into what happened, adding that if there are “any lessons to be learned they will be, and action will be taken.”
Speaking from Downing Street on Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister said: “There are people tonight who have no home to go to, they have lost absolutely everything, so our focus must be on support to them.
“In due course, when the scene is secure, when it's possible to identify the cause of this fire, then of course there will be proper investigation and if there are any lessons to be learnt they will be, and action will be taken.”
Her remarks echoed those of Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who said a “full investigation” would be carried out to try and prevent a similar incident taking place in future.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said "searching questions" needed to be asked about the tragedy including around safety and funding.
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