Anger mounts among lethal tower blaze survivors as British PM orders public inquiry

Friday, June 16, 2017

Pretoria - Anger mounted among survivors and the public as the death toll from Wednesday's deadly tower block fire in London has climbed to 17.

Said Ali, a resident on the 15th floor of the totally burned 24-story residential building, told Xinhua Thursday morning that he would have died if he had obeyed instructions to wait in his flat for rescue.

Ali, in his early 30s, said he fled his apartment early on Wednesday morning when fire broke out.

He explained how he first knew of the fire.

"My wife she smelled the smoke. When she opened the door she saw smoke everywhere. There was no alarm, how could people have known?"

According to reports, there might be between 400 and 600 people living in the Grenfell tower block in the west London district of Kensington and Chelsea when the fire started.

"It has never been safe; we spoke out, we put in complaints but nobody was listening -- because they don't care," Ali told Xinhua angrily.

"They tell you 'if you are not happy, go and rent'. That is what they used to say," he said, adding that fire safety in the block of flats had been bad at the time of the blaze, and beforehand too.

"I'm not happy because these criminals they kill people."

Ali said sadly that he had a friend who lived in the same building and he had been unable to find his friend or his friend's family since the fire and he feared they may have died.

The flats are administered by Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organization (KCTMO), on behalf of the local municipal authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

The tower block had been refurbished in a program that concluded last year and cost about 10 million pounds (about 1.28 million U.S. dollars).

Kitchens were being used to prepare free food for former residents of the tower block and for helpers, and outside under the piers of an urban motorway, many other volunteers were working hard.

They were unloading minivans loaded with donations of food, water, clothes, and basic household items, including clothes and wipes.

Bags of clothes were piled two meters high, and stacks of cartons of bottled water were everywhere.

A man who only gave his name as Mitchell told Xinhua he travelled 20 kilometres from southern London district of Chiselhurst to see how he could help.

"I came here with some donations. We can be strong if we stay together. Especially after the terrorist attack last month, everyone should stay strong," said Mitchell.

"Hopefully this can continue and everyone can help each other out and to recover from this bad incident," he said.

Mitchell said that he brought baby wipes and food. "Anything that I thought could help out these young families," he said.

By midday the volunteers warned they were no longer accepting any donations because they had far more than they were able to cope with. What they wanted now was boxes.

"Just bring us boxes, we don't want anything else -- just cardboard boxes," one organizer shouted to the volunteers and members of the public.

Five minutes later and only 50 meters down the street and within the site of the burnt out wreck of the tower block, one middle-aged woman suddenly burst into uncontrollably sobs, crying as she had just learnt that somebody she knew was among the victims of the fire.

The community in the area was in shock, but such scenes may sadly become more common in the coming days as more people learn of the fate of their loved ones.

Just around the corner an impromptu prayer wall had been started where flowers were being laid in tribute to the victims of the tragic event.

People had written their condolences and remembrances on the blank white sheets posted on the wall, and the words were heart-breaking.

"Rest in Peace", read one. "We weep with you," read another. Many messages were in Arabic and other Middle Eastern scripts. The area is ethnically mixed, with many immigrants from across the world.

There was anger also.

"Justice for Grenfell. Jail those responsible. Forever in our prayers," read a prominent message.

Earlier in the day British Prime Minister May had paid a visit to the scene of the disaster, where she met senior figures in the emergency services dealing with the event.

She announced that there would be a public inquiry into the disaster.

"Right now people want answers, and it's absolutely right, and that's why I am today ordering a full public inquiry into this disaster. We need to know what happened; we need to have an explanation of this, we owe that to the families. To the people who have lost loved ones, friends, and the homes in which they lived," May said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, the main opposition party, also visited the scene shortly after the prime minister, and met survivors of the fire.

He told the survivors: "We will demand and get answers. The truth has got to come out and it will. We have to get to the bottom of this."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who visited the scene in the afternoon, said: "Understandably, residents are very angry and concerned and have genuine questions that demand answers."

Khan was repeatedly interrupted as he spoke live on television, with local residents and survivors expressing their anger at the tragedy.

One woman said: "Someone needs to be held accountable. These deaths could have been prevented."

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said Thursday the search of Grenfell Tower will be a "very long process".

With many dozens of people still accounted for, people have been told to brace themselves for the death toll to rise. - SAnews-Xinhua


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