Traumatised firefighters search for more London fire victims

2017-06-15 20:11
A fireman searches the debris that has fallen off the Grenfell Tower building. (Frank Augstein, AP)

A fireman searches the debris that has fallen off the Grenfell Tower building. (Frank Augstein, AP)

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London - Struggling through the trauma of what they witnessed, London firefighters combed through the devastated block of flats on Thursday, trying to make sure the sooty, hulking ruin was structurally safe enough to let them keep searching for those still missing.

At least 17 people were killed in the early morning inferno on Wednesday that swept through the 24-story Grenfell Tower, trapping people inside their flats before firefighters could arrive.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday ordered a public inquiry into the blaze, which has fuelled public anxiety about whether the many high-rise blocks of flats around the country are safe.

Desperate bid

Residents of the huge Grenfell public housing complex, which had 120 flats that housed as many as 600 people, said their warnings about possible fire risks had been ignored for years. The tower is owned by the local government in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Fire safety engineers were stunned at how rapidly the fire spread, engulfing the building in less than an hour in the middle of the night and preventing firefighters from reaching many trapped inside. Some people jumped to their deaths rather than face the flames and witnesses reported seeing small children thrown from the tower by their families in a desperate bid to survive.

Firefighters trying to race into the building were protected from the falling debris by police officers who placed riot shields over their heads.

Queen Elizabeth II praised their bravery and their commissioner noted the trauma they had seen.

"I spoke to one of my officers, who was very near when someone came out the window, and he was in tears. And he is a professional fire officer," said Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton.

"We like to think of ourselves as 'roughty, toughty' and heroes - they are heroes - but they have feelings. People were absolutely devastated by the events".

Some parts of the tower were unsafe for firefighters to enter on Thursday morning, so the fire department worked with structural engineers to shore it up so crews could conduct thorough searches for victims, Cotton said. Specially trained dogs were being brought in to aid the search.

Local hospitals

Many people remain unaccounted for and officials are still not sure about the exact number of missing.

It would be a "miracle" if anyone else were found alive, Cotton said. Police were even unsure if they would be able to identify everyone.

"We need to know what happened," a resolute May said. "We need to know an explanation. We owe that to the families...to the people who have lost loved ones and the homes in which they lived".

In addition to those killed, ambulance crews took 74 people to local hospitals after the fire. Thirty-seven were still in hospital on Thursday, with 17 in critical condition.


Read more on:    uk  |  fire

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