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Grenfell Tower: 12 dead in fire that destroyed 24-storey tower block

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Police expect death toll to rise further as search continues and firefighters say they will be at site of blaze through the night

Twelve people have been confirmed dead in the inferno which engulfed a west London tower block and the death toll is likely to increase further, according to police.

Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan police said the operation to recover casualties was going to be long and complex. “I can confirm 12 people have died … I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will increase beyond those 12.

“The thoughts of all of us from the emergency services and colleagues from the local authority and all of London, our thoughts will be with those so affected by what is a fire on a scale that is unprecedented.”

Steve Apter from the London fire brigade said firefighters had managed to make it to the top, 24th floor of the building in difficult conditions. He said: “This is an ongoing live incident. We will be here until the job is done. We will do everything we can to conclude this incident. We certainly intend to be here through the night.”

The London ambulance service said ambulance crews had taken 68 people to hospital and they were being treated in six hospitals across London. An additional 10 people walked into hospital. Eighteen people were being treated in critical care.

A limited crew of firefighters remained in the building and drones from Kent fire service were being used to assess the stability of the building.

But the police said a full search of the building had not been completed and the number of dead would rise. Cundy said it was too early to say how many more would be found dead.

More than 250 firefighters worked through the night to rescue residents from their flats after the blaze broke out, shortly before 1am on Wednesday. The fire rapidly engulfed the full height of the block, and was still burning strongly more than six hours later, with a thick pall of dark smoke visible across the capital.

Apter said a fire commander on the scene had seen quickly that the fire was spreading faster than he would have anticipated and a major incident had been declared early.

Horrific witness accounts emerged through the day. Residents spoke of a baby and children being thrown from windows as people tried to flee to safety.

People could be seen waving and screaming from their windows as firefighters wearing breathing apparatus fought to rescue them. There were unconfirmed reports from a number of witnesses of seeing residents jump from their homes as they were engulfed by flames.

The London fire commissioner, Dany Cotton, had earlier called the fire “unprecedented” in its scale.

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” she said. “This is a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24-storey building, from the second floor upwards.”

She later said that firefighters had rescued “large numbers of people from inside the building across a range of different floors”, and had spoken to rescuers who had made it as far as the 19th and 20th floors.

Two hundred firefighters were at the scene at the fire’s peak, along with 40 engines and a range of specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue vehicles, she said. In addition, at least 20 ambulance crews were in attendance.

The Met said it was likely to take some time before the identities of the dead could be confirmed, adding that it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the blaze.

Theresa May said she was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Grenfell Tower”. Nick Hurd, the new police and fire minister, would chair a meeting of the civil contingencies secretariat to ensure the government was ready to assist emergency services and local authorities, she said.

However, it has emerged that concerns about fire safety in the tower were raised as early as 2012, when a health and safety review found firefighting equipment had not been checked for up to four years. A residents’ group also raised concerns about the single emergency exit to the building in 2016, warning that if it were to become blocked in a fire, people would be trapped inside.

In a blogpost on Wednesday morning, the Grenfell Action Group said: “We have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in [the borough of Kensington and Chelsea].

“ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

The 1970s building underwent a £10m refurbishment that was completed last year, when it was fitted with a new communal heating system, double glazing and exterior cladding. There are believed to be 120 homes in the tower.

Witnesses gave chilling accounts of the spread of the blaze. One witness told the Guardian she had seen “someone jump on fire from the top floor”. She said the man was flashing a light in an SOS pattern. “He was screaming: ‘Help, help, help!’ but no one helped. He dashed a mattress out of the window. He was literally on fire and jumped.”

A Guardian reporter saw one man waving a blanket from his window and calling for help, as firefighters sprayed his window with water to try to douse the flames. People from neighbouring estates huddled outside in their pyjamas near the flaming building, some shouting: “Put your head out the window,” or telling the man to shout his flat number so they could guide the fire services to him.

One local resident, Victoria Goldsmith, told Sky News: “There [were] literally two people trapped at the top and they had mobile phones and they had the lights trying to flash them and signal people … They couldn’t get to them … the fire kept going and the lights went out. They are trying to get it under control. It’s pretty horrendous.”

Jody Martin said he had got to the scene as the first fire engine was arriving. He told the BBC: “I grabbed an axe from the fire truck. It looked like there was a bit of confusion about what to do. I ran around the building looking for a fire escape and couldn’t see any noticeable fire escapes around the building. A lot of debris falling down. I eventually gained entry on to the second floor, and once I got to the corridor I realised there was so much smoke there.”

He added that, given the thickness of the smoke, he would be surprised if anyone could have left the building without assistance. “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.

Flatmates Line Sterring, 23, from Denmark, and Isabel Afonso, 22, from Portugal, live in Testerton Walk, immediately adjacent to Grenfell Tower.

They first heard noises at about 1.30am, and ran downstairs where they were told there was a fire in the neighbouring building. “There were people in the tower sitting on the window saying: ‘I’m going to jump down,’ and people yelling at them: ‘Don’t jump, they are coming,’” said Afonso.

“A lot of neighbours were trying to help, some of the apartments have access by a kind of bridge to our building so people were helping people over the gate between them. Some people were helping a family of four people with a baby.”

As the flames spread around the building, said Sterring, “we could see people waving fairy lights and flags to show their position. At first people seemed calm but then you could see smoke coming out of the windows. When they saw the smoke they started panicking.

“We saw people in the second top window of the tower. There were four people screaming and shouting and then the window went completely dark from the smoke and that part of the building was covered in flames.

“The worst thing was seeing people stuck and you feel so useless. You are just watching people probably dying and the feeling of not doing anything, you just can’t do anything.”

Residents in neighbouring streets were told to evacuate because of debris falling from the tower and roads in the area, including the A40, were closed. There was no service between Hammersmith and Edgware Road on the Circle and Hammersmith and City tube lines.

Many of those who escaped the flames gathered at the nearby Rugby Portobello centre where they were given water, clothes and blankets.

Francis Dean, from Middlesex, was at the missing persons’ centre on Freston Road looking for his sister Zainab Deen, who was with her two-year-old son in her flat in Grenfell Tower on Tuesday night.

“I was on the phone to her, she was on the 14th floor. She came out of the flat and they told her to stay, but because that flat was on fire she went into the next flat, 113. She was in 115. I was telling her to use the stairs. She was a bit frightened, a bit afraid. But the firefighters were telling her to go back in.

“Their response was too slow and, besides, the building burned too fast. This is a new building. When she got the flat they were still renovating it. I don’t think it’s been two years yet, and now fire. Somebody’s got to be held accountable for this.”

If you are concerned for loved ones the police have set up an emergency line: 0800 0961 233

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