PM orders inquiry as firefighters search for bodies

2017-06-15 16:17
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May visits the block of flats in London. (Frank Augstein, AP)

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May visits the block of flats in London. (Frank Augstein, AP)

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London - British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday ordered a public inquiry into the devastating London tower block fire which left at least 17 people dead as firefighters searched for bodies with dozens still reported missing.

"We owe that to the families...to the people who have lost loved ones and the homes in which they lived," said May, as firefighters said parts of the council-owned building in west London had become structurally unsafe.

The prime minister said the inquiry, an official review of action by public institutions, was needed to ensure "this terrible tragedy is properly investigated".

Black smoke

Seventeen people have been confirmed dead and the number is expected to rise, with Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton saying there were still "unknown numbers" of people inside.

"Tragically now we are not expecting to find anyone else alive," she said.

The 24-storey Grenfell Tower was home to around 600 people when the fire ripped through the building before dawn on Wednesday.

Entire families remain missing after the fire, which forced residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jumped out of windows or even dropped their children to safety.

Around 35 appeals to find missing loved ones have been made in the press and on social media so far.

Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the tower's 120 flats in what fire chiefs said was an unprecedented blaze.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the tower on Thursday after the prime minister, said "some very hard questions must be answered" about how the fire took hold.

"We have to get to the bottom of this - the truth has got to come out and it will," he told volunteers at a local church.

Building regulations

The focus of criticism centres on the cladding fitted to external walls on the 1970s concrete block as part of a £8.7m refit completed last year.

According to the BBC, the cladding had a plastic core and was similar to that used by high-rise buildings in France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, which had also suffered fires that spread.

Rydon, the firm responsible for the refit, said the project "met all required building regulations".

Harley Facades, which fitted the panels, told the BBC: "At this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower."

Grenfell Tower is part of a social housing estate in north Kensington, just streets away from some of the most expensive homes in the world in Notting Hill.

The area has a large immigrant population, but many families have lived in the area for years, passing on their low-rent homes to their children.

Emergency services

The fire triggered a fresh wave of mourning in a country already battered by a string of terror attacks.

More than £480 000 had been raised online for the victims by early Thursday, while local community centres were inundated by donations of clothes and food.

Volunteers in Glasgow - 550km away - sent a truck laden with nappies and other supplies.

Queen Elizabeth II sent her condolences, paying tribute to the bravery of the emergency services.

"It is also heartening to see the incredible generosity of community volunteers rallying to help those affected by this terrible event," she in a statement.

David Collins, former chair of the Grenfell Tower Residents' Association, said the building's management had failed to listen to residents' calls for improvements on fire safety.

"If the same concerns were had in a wealthy part of Kensington and Chelsea they would have got resolved, but here they didn't get resolved," said Collins.

Read more on:    theresa may  |  uk  |  fires

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