London apartment fire: Death toll rises

A blaze has ripped through a 24-storey housing block in west London, trapping residents as they slept and killing at least 12 people in an inferno that the fire brigade says is unprecedented in its scale and speed.

It's possible scores more may have died in the fire. One local community leader told the Mirror: "Nobody who lived on the top three floors survived."

  • At least 68 people have been admitted to hospital.
  • At least 18 are in a critical condition.
  • The death toll is at 12 but expected to rise as emergency services search the building.
  • No sprinklers were installed in the building, reports say.
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May will hold a cross-Government meeting to co-ordinate response to the fire.
  • Fire crews got to the 20th floor and saved "a large number or residents.

More than 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought for hours to try to control London's deadliest blaze in a generation, which began early on Wednesday. The Grenfell Tower apartment block was home to about 600 people.

More than 16 hours after the fire started, crews were still trying to douse flames as they sought to reach the top floors.

Firefighters rescued 68 people - some in pyjamas - from the 43-year-old block, a low-rent housing estate overlooking upscale parts of the Kensington area.

London police commander Stuart Cundy did not believe further survivors would be found in the building.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the fire raised questions about the safety of such high-rise blocks, and the BBC reported that the scale of the disaster could delay Prime Minister Theresa May's announcement of a parliamentary deal to stay in power.

Some residents screamed for help from behind upper-floor windows, others tried to throw children to safety, as flames raced through the block of about 120 apartments just before 1am (local time).

"We could see a lot of children and parents screaming for 'Help! Help! Help!' and putting their hands on the window and asking to help them," witness Amina Sharif told Reuters.

"We could do nothing and we could see the stuff on the side was falling off, collapsing. We were just standing screaming and they were screaming."

Another witness, Saimar Lleshi, saw people tying together sheets in an attempt to escape.

The ambulances service said 68 people had been taken to hospital and 18 were in critical care.

Police Commander Stuart Cundy cautioned the death toll was likely to rise.

At a nearby community centre used to house some of those rescued, tensions were rising as occupants waited for news.

"The fire, which was unprecedented in its scale and speed, will be subject to a full fire investigation," said Steve Apter from the London Fire Brigade.

"Any lessons learnt from this will be borne out not just across London, across the UK - and lessons learnt globally."

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

"In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale," London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters.

The cause of the inferno, which left the tower block a charred, smoking shell, was not immediately known. Some residents said no alarm had sounded.

Residents who escaped told how they woke up to the smell of burning and rushed to leave through smoke-filled corridors and stairwells.

One woman lost two of her six children as she tried to escape from the block, one witness said.

"I spoke to a lady that lives on the 21st floor. She has got six kids. She left with all six of them. When she got downstairs there was only four of them with her. She is now breaking her heart," Michael Paramasivan, a block resident, told BBC radio.

Tamara, one witness, told the BBC: "There's people, like, throwing their kids out, 'Just save my children, just save my children!'".

Prime Minister May said her thoughts were with all those affected by the fire.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said sprinkler systems should be installed in such blocks and called on the government to make a statement in parliament.

Firefighters rescued large numbers of people - some of them in their pyjamas - from the 43-year-old block, a low rent housing estate which overlooks upscale parts of the Kensington area.

The block had recently undergone an £8.7 million (NZ$15 million) refurbishment of the exterior, which included new external cladding and replacement windows.

Residents said they had warned repeatedly over fire safety in the block.

Mr Khan said questions needed to be answered about the safety of tower blocks after some residents said they had been advised they should stay in their flats in the event of a fire.