The rapid spread of the fire at the 1970’s constructed Grenfell Tower stunned everyone, 200 firefighters battled the blaze and toxic smoke entering the flaming building. So far there are 17 deaths and 25 people are still in hospital, the tower block contained 120 apartments and possibly 600 people; it is hard to estimate the total number of inhabitants because in some flats extended family members may have been staying for Ramadan. It is thanks to Muslims awake for Suhoor, the meal consumed in the early morning before fasting, that the alarm was raised. The Metropolitan Police’s top priority is to identify those who have tragically died, officers are working around the clock but they do not expect to find any survivors; Met Police Commander Cundy said “It is important to be frank — fires are still breaking out and conditions are very difficult and hazardous for the emergency services in the upper levels of the building.”
A sports centre and a Methodist Church are co-ordinating shelter and donations for the devastated homeless families; the Met Casualty Bureau is staffed 24/7 and had received 5000 calls at the time of writing. A search for missing family and friends is active London wide and many photographs are circulating on social media. Local residents and communities have come together to open their homes and offer hospitality and support.
A sports centre and a Methodist Church are co-ordinating shelter and donations for the devastated homeless families; the Met Casualty Bureau is staffed 24/7 and had received 5000 calls at the time of writing.
The Government Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that a government emergency scheme, making available financial assistance to local authorities to help with immediate costs following a disaster or emergency in their area that involves danger to life or property. They can apply to have 100% of their eligible costs above a threshold reimbursed. The new Housing Minister Alok Sharma confirmed that working with Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Government will guarantee that every single family from Grenfell Tower will be rehoused in the local area.
Furious residents have repeatedly complained about insufficient safety precautions to both the Management and to the Council; there was only one staircase and it appears there were inadequate fire alarms and no sprinklers. It seems no fire safety improvements were implemented following report after the fire in Camberwell’s tower block Lakanal House, in south-east London, in 2009. Grenfell Tower underwent a major refurbishment completed in July 2016 costing £10million, part of the re-modelling and refurbishment was installing external rain screen cladding thought to provide insulation and internally, a more efficient communal heating system and bespoke smoke extract and ventilation system were fitted.
Cllr Nick Paget-Brown, the leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, visited the site in May 2016 and said “It is remarkable to see first-hand how the cladding has lifted the external appearance of the tower and how the improvements inside people’s homes will make a big difference to their day-to-day lives”.
Regulations do not specify that external cladding must be non-combustible, although cost will have a bearing on this, all fireproofed materials and more expensive. It is hoped that energy savings priorities did not trump life-saving priorities. Legislation, regulations, inspections and accountability are all to be scrutinised.
Dale Youth Boxing Club, responsible for some of the UK’s best boxing talent including Olympic Gold medallist James DeGale and former European, British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion George Groves, is based within Grenfell Tower.
At the time of writing the Just Giving crowdfunding appeal had raised £995,412 of the £2million target to help the families that have lost everything. The Big Give Grenfell Tower Appeal for the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, a charity that is well connected to the community and able to deliver assistance quickly and effectively so far has raised £848,640. Many similar efforts are underway but no figures are available.
The Prime Minister consulted with the emergency services on site, Jeremy Corbyn and Adele offered condolences. Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has vowed to get all the answers, uncover the facts and ensure justice is done.