LONDON, June 14: “A lot of people” are still unaccounted for after a massive blaze in a London tower block, and fire crews only managed to reach the 12th floor at the height of the fire, mayor Sadiq Khan said on Wednesday.
“A lot of people are unaccounted for. Some of them could have found safe refuges in the homes of their neighbours or their friends,” Khan told Sky News television as smoke billowed from the charred 27-storey building.
Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton said there had been “a number of fatalities” after what she called an “unprecedented” blaze. The ambulance service said 50 people had been hospitalised.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known. Residents said the blaze appeared to start in an apartment on a lower floor and spread upward quickly.
Horror as blaze traps residents
Shaken survivors told on Wednesday of seeing people trapped or jump to their doom as flames raced towards the building’s upper floors and smoke filled the corridors.
Hanan Wahabi, 39, who lives on the ninth floor of the 27-storey Grenfell Tower, said she was awoken around 1am (0000 GMT) by smoke.
“I could see there was ash coming through the window in the living room, which was partially open,” she said, sitting with her husband and son, 16, and daughter, eight, outside a local community centre.
“I looked out and I could see the fire travelling up the block. It was literally by my window,” she said. “I slammed the window shut and got out.”
After the family escaped, she called her brother, who lives on the 21st floor, to see if he was all right. “The fire hadn’t reached the top of the block at that point,” Wahabi said.
“He said he had been told to stay inside, stay in one room together and put towels under the door. I told him to leave. He said he was going to come. Then I called him and he said there was too much smoke.”
She added: “The last time I saw him they were waving out the window, his wife and children. The last time I spoke to his wife, he was on the phone to the fire brigade. I’ve not heard from them since, the phone is not going through, the landline isn’t going through. That was about 2am.”
Fatalities in tower block
“A number” of people have been killed in a massive fire in the apartment block, London Fire Brigade chief Cotton told reporters at the scene.
“There have been a number of fatalities. I cannot confirm the number at this time due to the size and complexity of the building,” Cotton said.
A witness identified as Daniel told BBC Radio London that people on the upper floors were trapped as the flames rose higher and higher.
“People have been burned,” he said. “I have seen it with my own eyes. And I have seen people jump.”
Another witness named as Jody Martin said he battled his way to the second floor only to encounter choking smoke.
“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’,” he said.
Dozens of people hospitalised
Rescue services, giving an early toll, said 30 people had been hospitalised, and witnesses said they had seen others fall or jump from the stricken building. The ambulance service later put the number of injured people at 50.
Other witnesses said they heard screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose and one desperate resident could be seen waving a white cloth.
Blaze engulfs building
Flames ravaged the tower, lighting up the pre-dawn west London skyline and sending up a thick plume of black smoke.
Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from Grenfell Tower, a 1970s block in the working-class north Kensington area – a short distance from chic Notting Hill.
Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said “a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries”, including at least two for smoke inhalation.
Four hours after the alarm was raised, flames could still be seen on several floors of the blackened residential building, which was shrouded in a cloud of thick black smoke.
“Fire is from 2nd to top floor of 27 storey building,” the fire service said on Twitter.
“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Dan Daly said.
“This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances,” he said.
A dramatic photograph posted by the fire service showed the side of the building engulfed in flames.
The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to the blaze in Grenfell Tower, which has 120 flats. The ambulance service said it had sent more than 20 ambulance crews to the scene.
Firefighters at the scene said they had managed to evacuate residents up to the 11th floor. Police were also clearing out nearby buildings because of fears about falling debris.
Frantic families at the scene attempted to call their loved ones stuck inside and were being directed by police to a nearby restaurant where some of the injured were being treated.
Police said in a statement they were called at 1.16am (4.16am UAE) “to reports of a large fire at a block of flats in the Lancaster West Estate”.
Residents were reportedly been heard screaming for their lives according to some media outlets.
The apartment block was built in 1974. Local residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during improvement works.-AGENCIES