London apartment fire: Rage as death toll climbs to at least 58

  • 18/06/2017
Smoke issues from Grenfell Tower, London
The death toll has climbed to at least 50. Photo credit: Reuters

At least 58 people were likely killed in a fire which engulfed a London tower block earlier this week, police say, but warn that number may change.

If that death toll is confirmed, it would make the Grenfell Tower blaze the deadliest in London since World War Two.

The blaze engulfed the 24-storey apartment block of social housing on Wednesday.

"Sadly at this time, there are 58 people who we have been told were in Grenfell Tower on the night that are missing and therefore sadly I have to assume that they are dead," Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters on Saturday.

Mr Cundy added that the figure could change. Police had previously put the death toll at 30.

Prime Minister Theresa May has now admitted the response from the authorities had not been good enough.

Ms May was rushed away from a meeting with residents on Friday under heavy police guard as protesters shouted "Shame on you" and hundreds stormed a local town hall calling for justice.

"The response of the emergency services, National Health Service, and the community has been heroic," Ms May said in a statement.

"But, frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough."

A protester holds a banner reading 'Blood on your hands
Protesters see the fire death toll as symbol of a divided society. Photo credit: Getty
Protesters hold a banner reading 'Justice For Grenfell'
Protesters call for justice for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London. Photo credit: Getty

Residents said Ms May was far too slow to visit the stricken community, that the building had been unsafe and that officials have failed to give enough information and support to those who have lost relatives and their homes.

Others have emphasised inequality and poverty as contributing factors.

"Painful to see strife over temporarily housing #GrenfellTower survivors in a nation full of actual palaces. Buckingham alone has 775 rooms," tweeted Edward Snowden.

Ms May on Saturday chaired a meeting on the government's response to the fire and met victims of the fire in Downing Street.

Alongside both police and fire investigations into the blaze, she has promised a public inquiry.

She also pledged STG5 million (NZ$8.81 million) of support, housing guarantees and help with access to bank accounts and cash. Those who lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks, she said.

While the blaze has prompted an outpouring of generosity, with many people donating provisions and clothes, it has also unleashed rage at the authorities as the charred tower was cast as a deadly symbol of a deeply divided society.

Angry protesters chanting "We want justice" stormed their way into the Kensington and Chelsea town hall on Friday.

After a turbulent three months which has seen Britain scarred by three deadly Islamist militant attacks and now the tower blaze, Queen Elizabeth said the mood was deeply sombre but that the British people were resolute in the face of adversity.

Queen Elizabeth II is shown donations of aid for victims of the Grenfell fire.
Queen Elizabeth II is shown donations of aid during a visit to a temporary shelter for those who have been made homeless in the disaster. Photo credit: Getty

"It is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood," Elizabeth said in a message on her official birthday.

"United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss."

Such a direct message from the monarch is rare and indicated the extent of the turmoil in Britain.