A major fire engulfed a 24-story block of apartments in central London Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens of others, the Metropolitan Police reported. Authorities added that the death toll is expected to rise as it is not likely more survivors will be found.
The London Ambulance Service have reportedly treated patients in six hospitals across London, 17 of whom are said to be in critical condition.
Black and gray smoke billowed into the air from the building, where some residents were reportedly trapped inside. According to the London Fire Brigade, the flames had engulfed all floors of the building, from the second to the top.
Multiple eyewitnesses recounted seeing residents, who were trapped in the building, shouting from the windows for help. Some reportedly jumped from the tower.
On social media, the Grenfell Tower disaster is being compared to Hurricane Katrina due to the large number of people of color and marginalized working class residents who lost their lives or were affected by the fire.
While the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is one of London's most affluent boroughs, a virtual playground of monied families, pockets of disadvantaged communities housed in substandard building complexes remain. This was the case of Grenfell Tower.
Anger flared over as locals had repeatedly warned council officials of the structural dangers posed by the building. Still, their complaints were consistently ignored.
CNN reported that a woman named Susan said that residents had warned that “this would happen, and the council did nothing.” She added that the tower had been refurbished but people were unhappy. They said it wasn't safe.”
Jade, another local resident who declined to give her last name asked, “This is one of the richest boroughs in London, so why aren't they doing more to help people? They have the money but the rich people only care about themselves, they don't care about us.”She concluded that that council “has money it could spend on helping these families but it hasn't happened.”
She concluded that that council “has money it could spend on helping these families but it hasn't happened.”
For the most part, it has been local residents from the marginalized community who have come together to help distribute water, snacks, supplies, information and all else needed to help the victims.
The Grenfell Action Group said in a blogpost in November: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO.”
“All our warnings fell on deaf ears,” the group said in a post on Wednesday.
KCTMO had told tower residents to "stay put" in their apartments in the event of a fire unless the fire was in their home or in the hallway outside.
Experts also have warned that a government delay in reviewing building regulations could be endangering tower blocks across the country.
Following a tower block fire at Lakanal House in South London in 2009, which claimed six lives, a coroner’s investigation made a series of recommendations to the government, including a review into the fire safety regulations.
Former Housing Minister and Theresa May’s new chief of staff Gavin Barwell last year promised to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which relate to fire safety, but it never materialized. The same regulations still apply to over 4,000 tower blocks within the U.K.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was devastated by the horrific scenes and questions needed to be answered over the safety of tower blocks. “I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers.”
"What we can't have is a situation where people's safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained,” Khan said.
The scale of the devastation became clear as dawn began to break. Parts of the fire appeared to have been extinguished, but flames could still be seen on many floors. According to the Guardian, a man could be seen waving a blanket from the window.
Another devastating account from an eyewitness said a burning man had been seen falling. Hadil Alamily told the Guardian she saw the man flashing a light. “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.”
More than 20 ambulance crews were at the scene. The injured were taken to the hospital for treatment, but many residents remained unaccounted for.
“At present, all our focus has to be on supporting the rescue and relief operation. But the cause of the fire will need to be fully investigated and we will keep people informed,” council leader Nick Paget-Brown said in a statement.