Death toll from London blaze expected to rise

The 24-storey Grenfell Tower, which was home to between 600 and 800 people, caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

More than 200 firefighters had been tackling the blaze and managed to rescue 65 people.

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 morning, after Wednesday's blaze turned it into a flaming torch in minutes.

London police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters that the 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.

London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton told ITV that her crews had reached the top floor of the building and conducted initial visual searches from doorways but had not done a comprehensive search because it was unsafe.

"We've got structural surveyors and my urban search and rescue team who are going to come down, make an assessment and find a way of making the building safe so that we can go through the whole building, fingertip search, painstakingly, looking to see what's in there," she said.

Survivors who have lost all their belongings in the blaze spent the night at emergency shelters. Charities and local support groups were flooded with donations of clothes and bedding from shocked Londoners.

The fire brigade said the inferno was unprecedented in its scale and speed.

"The scene that I was confronted with was an unparalleled scene to anything I had seen before. The building was ablaze. I have truly never seen that in a high-rise building," Cotton told Sky News.

Prime Minister Theresa May visited the scene on Thursday and later ordered a full public inquiry into the incident.

Cause unknown

The tower is a social housing block built in 1974 in North Kensington, an area of west London. It contained 120 flats and was thought to have been home to about 600 to 800 people.

Harrowing accounts emerged of people trapped inside as the blaze destroyed everything around them, shouting for help and trying to escape through windows using makeshift ropes from bed sheets tied together.

By Thursday morning, there was no sign of life in or around the blackened hulk. Security cordons were in place around the base of the tower, where the ground was littered with charred debris.

Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the 120 apartments in what fire chiefs said was an unprecedented blaze. (AFP)

Outside the cordons, impromptu tributes have appeared, with photos of missing people, messages of condolences, flowers and candles.

Emergency services said it was too early to say what had caused the disaster. Some residents said no alarm had sounded. Others said they had warned repeatedly about fire safety in the block.

The building had recently undergone an 8.7 million pound ($11.1 million) exterior refurbishment, which included new external cladding and windows.

Reuters is reporting that 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.

TRTWorld and agencies