London – The death toll in a horrific fire that swept through a high-rise apartment block in London reached double figures Wednesday night, with the toll expected to rise.
By late evening, 12 people had been confirmed dead in the inferno at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, home to between 400 and 600 Londoners living in the 120 apartments.
Around 80 more people have been taken to hospitals across London, some of them critically ill with severe burns.
The London Evening Standard reported many more of the tower block’s hundreds of residents are still unaccounted for.
Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said he expects the death toll to rise, but so far no figures have been released to indicate the actual number of people still missing.
Witnesses described how one desperate mother shouted to people from a ninth or 10th floor, pleading with them to catch her baby.
According to the reports the mom then hurtled her baby from the flat and it was caught by a man standing below. It is not known what happened to the baby’s mom.
As rescue squads continued the grim task of working their way through the fire-charred tower, the number of people who perished in the blazing heat of the fire is expected to rise.
Prime Minister Theresa May promised on Wednesday night a full investigation into the cause of the tragedy.
The tower block, more than 40-years-old, had been given a facelift costing more than 10 million U.S. dollars just a year ago.
Local media reported that residents had complained to council officials about the work.
In the early hours of Wednesday, a fire broke out on the fourth floor of the building, and within minutes the tower was engulfed.
It led to scenes of sheer terror, as some occupants, a number of them in flames, leaped to certain death to escape the scorching flames.
Others were seen and heard trapped in their apartments, screaming for help.
May ordered a meeting of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to co-ordinate a response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
She said in her statement: “Once the recovery is complete an investigation will take place. It’s impossible to comprehend the horror of what people have been going through,” describing the blaze as an appalling tragedy.
Even as the rescue and recovery operation continued a debate was underway about the safety of high rise apartment blocks.
It is too early to say whether cladding added to the exterior of the block to make it look modern was a factor in the rapid spread of the fire.
London MP Andy Slaughter described the Grenfell Tower fire as a national tragedy on a huge scale.
He said an investigation is needed to establish if there are problems with the construction of refurbishment of tower blocks.
“There are so many questions to be asked, and there will be so much fear and uncertainty among people who are living in similar blocks,” he said.
At its peak, there were more than 250 London firefighters, with more than 40 fire trucks, an army of paramedics and fleets of ambulances.
Grenfell Tower is on Latimer Road, in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea in west London, and is part of a huge 1 000-home social housing complex known as the Lancaster West Estate.
The company that carried out the refurbishment, Rydon Construction, issued a statement saying the refurbishment project met all required building regulations. The work included new exterior cladding, new windows and a communal heating system.