Death toll set to rise amid grim search for Grenfell Tower blaze victims


The death toll from the devastating tower block fire in west London is expected to rise as investigators trawl through the wreckage in the search for other victims.

At least 12 people have died after the huge fire destroyed Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, where flames could still be seen burning almost 24 hours after the blaze started.

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised a "proper investigation" after the fire tore through the 24-storey building early on Wednesday morning amid growing concerns about how the fire could have spread so rapidly.

Tower block fire in London

Speaking in Downing Street, Mrs May said: "When it's possible to identify the cause of this fire, then of course there will be proper investigation and if there are any lessons to be learnt they will be, and action will be taken."

Many people are still unaccounted for and firefighters are continuing to tackle "pockets of fire" in the block, with the operation now in the "recovery phase".

Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said: "This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12."

Residents' groups have claimed they voiced concerns about the safety of the building, which had been recently refurbished, while those who escaped complained their fire alarms had not been set off by the blaze.

Policing and Fire minister Nick Hurd said emergency checks would now be carried out on tower blocks undergoing similar renovations.

Grenfell Tower, which built in 1974, was recently refurbished at a cost of £8.6 million, with work completed in May last year.

Kensington and Chelsea Council admitted it had received complaints over the works, after a residents' action group said its warnings about safety had fallen on "deaf ears".

A blog post from Grenfell Action Group in November said "only a catastrophic event" would expose the concerns residents had.

The group said there was one entry and exit to the tower during improvement works and it had issues with evacuation procedures.

Concerns had also been raised about exposed gas pipes weeks before the devastating blaze.

Rydon, the firm that carried out the refurbishment work, said the project "met all required building regulations", in its latest statement following the fire.

But a line stating that the project had met all "fire regulation and health and safety standards", which was included in an earlier release, had disappeared.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said "searching questions" need to be asked about what happened, suggesting spending cuts could have contributed to the deadly fire.

He said: "If you deny local authorities the funding they need, then there is a price that's paid."

Witnesses described hearing screams for help from people trapped on the upper floors of the block as flames engulfed the building, which contains 120 flats thought to be home to between 400 and 600 people.

Children and a baby were seen being thrown out of the windows to be caught by emergency workers and members of the public below.

London Fire Brigade said it had rescued 65 people as flames engulfed the block, and had managed to reach all 24 floors, though a full search of the building has not been completed.

NHS England said 74 patients were treated in six hospitals across London. Thirty-four remain in hospital including 18 who are in critical care.

On Wednesday evening, dozens of people gathered for a vigil in the shadow of the tower as the sun began to set.

Many were moved to tears after pausing for moment of silent contemplation outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church in west London.

Emergency accommodation had been provided to 44 households affected by the fire, with families with young children, elderly residents and those who are vulnerable have been given "immediate priority", the local council said.

People unable to return to their homes have been offered a place to stay at Westway Sports Centre in Crowthorne Road, north Kensington.