The death toll in a fire that ripped through a 24-storey block of flats in London rose to 17 on Thursday, with many people still missing and firefighters facing hazardous conditions as they searched the charred wreck.
Smoke was still wafting out of the shell of the Grenfell Tower on Thursday, and a Reuters cameraman saw a big piece of building cladding fall from the building.
Fire engulfed the social housing block in the early hours of Wednesday, turning it into a flaming torch in minutes.
“Sadly I can confirm that the number of people that have died is now 17,” London police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.
He said that number was expected to rise and firefighters have said they did not expect to find any more survivors after rescuing 65 from the inferno. Thirty-seven people remained in hospital, with 17 of them in critical care.
“Our absolute priority for all of us is identifying and locating those people who are still missing,” Cundy said before declining to comment on speculation about the likely final death toll: “It would be wrong for me to get into numbers that I do not believe are accurate.”
London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton said urban search units backed by specialist dog teams would scour the building as structural surveyors helped make the tower safe.
The cause of the blaze, the worst in the British capital in a generation, was being investigated. Speaking within weeks of London’s deadliest attack by militants in more than a decade, Cundy said nothing suggested the fire was linked to terrorism.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who has promised an investigation into the disaster, visited the scene on Thursday to meet members of the emergency services, but left without making any public comment.
Local residents say there had been repeated warnings about the safety of the building, which recently underwent an 8.7 million pound ($11.1 million) exterior refurbishment, which included new external cladding and windows.
Planning documents detailing the refurbishment did not refer to a type of fire barrier that building safety experts said should be used when high-rise blocks are being re-clad, according to Reuters research.
Queen Elizabeth said her thoughts and prayers were with those families who had lost loved ones and with the many people still critically ill in hospital. She also paid tribute to the bravery of firefighters who risked their lives to save others.
“It is also heartening to see the incredible generosity of community volunteers rallying to help those affected by this terrible event,” the queen said.