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Anger mounts over London tower blaze

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LONDON: Anger mounted in London on Wednesday over a devastating tower block blaze which killed at least 17 people, as police said some of the victims were left unrecognisable by the blaze.

Locals yelled questions at Mayor Sadiq Khan as he walked through the west London neighbourhood where the 24-storey Grenfell Tower went up in flames early on Wednesday.

“How many children died? What are you going to do about it?” a boy asked Khan, as the mayor tried to stop tensions rising further.

“You can see the anger for the community, justifiably so,” he said.

“Many people have been saying for some time now, their concerns about the housing we’re talking about now, but also other tower blocks around London.”

Grenfell Tower was home to around 600 people and whole families remain missing after the fire, which forced residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jump out of windows or even drop their children to safety.

Of the 17 victims found by emergency services so far, six were outside the tower, while it has not yet been deemed safe enough to recover the 11 bodies found inside.

“They are simply not recognisable because of the fire,” Fiona McCormack, from the Metropolitan Police’s identification team, said of the victims found inside Grenfell Tower.

One of the victims was named as Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee, who came to Britain in 2014 with his brother.

“Mohammed undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK, in his own home,” the Syrian Solidarity Campaign said in a statement.

As the fire continued to burn more than 36 hours after the blaze started, police commander Stuart Cundy said he did not expect to find any survivors.

“There is a risk we may not be able to identify everybody. The process will be very long. We’re talking weeks, we’re talking months,” he said.

Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the tower’s 120 apartments in what fire chiefs said was an unprecedented blaze.

The focus of criticism centres on the cladding fitted to external walls on the 1970s concrete block as part of a £8.7 million ($11 million, 9.9 million euros) refit completed last year.

According to the BBC, the cladding had a plastic core and was similar to that used by high-rise buildings in France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, which had also suffered fires that spread.

Rydon, the firm responsible for the refit, said the project “met all required building regulations.”

Harley Facades, which fitted the panels, told the BBC: “At this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said they still did not the cause of the fire, where it started or why it spread in such a way.

Earlier on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a public inquiry, an official review of action by public institutions.

In addition to debate over the cladding, questions have also been raised over why there was no sprinkler system in the Grenfell Tower which could have helped stop the fire spreading, or any central smoke alarm system that would have woken sleeping residents.

Official fire service advice for residents to stay in their homes and use towels to block out smoke, while awaiting help, has also come under scrutiny.

Local lawmaker Emma Dent Coad said grieving families had “lost their loved ones and their communities have been shaken to the core. They need answers.”

Fellow London MP Harriet Harman urged politicians to pursue the inquiry without delay, warning Fire Minister Nick Hurd if they didn’t act “you and all of us are culpable.”

Grenfell Tower is part of a social housing estate in north Kensington, just streets away from some of the most expensive homes in the world in Notting Hill.

Residents have said their safety concerns were ignored, arguing their fears would have been addressed before the tragedy had they lived in a more upmarket area of London.

“If this happened somewhere near Knightsbridge this would have been resolved. It wouldn’t have been an issue,” said Nana Akuffo, 46, a chef volunteering at a local community centre.

David Collins, former chairman of the Grenfell Tower Residents’ Association, said the building’s management had failed to listen to residents’ calls for improvements on fire safety.

“This is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, diverse community that just didn’t get served by the people representing them,” Collins told AFP.

The government on Thursday set up an emergency fund to allow the local authorities to deal with the disaster.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been raised online for the victims, while local community centres were inundated by donations of clothes and food. –AFP

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