LONDON: Fire engulfed a 24-storey housing block in West London in the early hours on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people and injuring 74 others in an inferno that trapped residents as they slept.
Some residents screamed for help from behind upper floor windows, some tried to throw children to safety, as flames raced through the high-rise Grenfell Tower block of apartments in the North Kensington area after taking hold just before 1:00am.
“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said.
Fire crews will be tackling the fire for at least the next 24 hours, Cotton said.
“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,” Amina Sharif, a witness, said.
“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.
“I saw three people putting sheets together to climb down, but no one climbed down. I don’t know what happened to them.”
“Even when the lights went off, people were waving with white shirts to be seen,” Lleshi said.
More than 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought for hours to bring the blaze, one of the biggest seen in central London in memory, under control.
By mid-day, London police said six people had been killed and they cautioned the death toll was likely to rise.
Police Commander Stuart Cundy said a “recovery operation” could take some time and there could be people in the building who are unaccounted for, though he would not be give a figure.
Fire-fighting crews still had to reach the top four floors of the building where several hundred people live in 130 apartments.
The cause of the blaze, which left the tower block a charred, smoking shell, was not immediately known.
The block had recently undergone an 8.7 million pound ($11.08 million) refurbishment of the exterior, which included new external cladding and replacement windows.
Black smoke billowed high into the air for hours after the fire broke out. Residents rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors after being woken up by the smell of burning.
London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the 24-storey building. There were reports that some residents leapt out of windows to escape the flames.