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Number of confirmed victims rises in London tower block fire

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By Alasdair Sandford
Number of confirmed victims rises in London tower block fire

A number of people are missing following the deadly overnight fire that ravaged a London residential tower block. In the late afternoon on Wednesday the number of people confirmed dead rose from six to 12, and the capital’s police chief said the toll was expected to rise further.

Firefighters have said they expect to be tackling the fire in Kensington, west London, for at least 24 hours. Throughout the day flames and smoke have prevented firefighters from reaching the high-rise building’s upper floors. Nearly 18 hours after it started, it was still burning.

The police have said there may be people still in the building who are unaccounted for. They add that the recovery operation could be complex and lengthy.

Earlier in the day the authorities said more than 70 people had been treated in several London hospitals. Many appeals have gone out on social media for news of those missing.

The 24-storey Grenfell Tower in Kensington, west London, dates from the early 1970s and had recently been refurbished with cladding added to the outside wall.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was deeply saddened by the loss of life. She called on her police and fire minister to chair a meeting with emergency, to ensure the government can help emergency services and local authorities.

London Fire Brigade Commissioner, Dany Cotton, said: “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale.”

The city’s mayor Sadiq Khan had this message: “My thoughts and prayers, as I’m sure the thoughts and prayers of the entire country, are with the family and friends of those in the building and affected by this tragic and horrific fire. Also, pay tribute the amazing emergency services, from the fire service – we have more than 250 fire fighters many of whom have been there from the beginning… Also, London Ambulance Service, more than a hundred paramedics helping out during the course of the night, more than a hundred police officers.”

Firefighters rescued large numbers of people from the block, part of a low-rent housing estate in a multi-ethnic area of London which forms a recognisable part of the capital’s skyline.

Throughout the day many local people have rushed to help while churches, mosques and temples have opened their doors to people made homeless.

The fire, thought to have started on a lower floor sometime after midnight, tore upwards and sideways through the block. Trapped residents could be seen desperately seeking help. There were screams from behind upper-floor windows, while some tried to throw children to safety as the flames and smoke closed in.

One witness said a neighbour on the 21st floor lost track of two of her six children as they all tried to escape the burning building. A bystander said she saw a baby thrown from a 9th or 10th floor window. People were seen at the windows “frantically banging and screaming”, the witness said.

At least one resident said they had previously been told in the event of fire to stay in their flats and put down wet towels – and that the fire doors would protect them for an hour until they were rescued.

Sadiq Khan said the fire raised questions over fire safety in high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower. There have been claims that residents had long-standing concerns. A local residents association had previously warned it was worried about the risk of a serious fire in the block.