London fire death toll rises as 58 are missing, presumed dead

Authorities in London said Saturday that 58 people missing are presumed dead from this week's fire disaster at a high-rise tower.

The update from police came as Prime Minster Theresa May met for more than two hours with survivors of the blaze at her office at 10 Downing Street. May has faced a barrage of criticism for the government's initial response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. The presumed dead includes 30 people authorities previously confirmed perished in the Wednesday morning blaze at the public housing complex.

Following the meeting, May issued in a statement in which she acknowledged that "support on the ground for families that needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough."

She said that the government has begun distributing funds from a $6.4 emergency fund created to assist victims of the blaze, and housing officials are conducting safety checks of other public high-rise towers in London. May also said that she has set a deadline of three weeks for all the survivors of the Grenfell fire to be placed in new housing.

"I have heard the concerns and I have ordered immediate action across the board to help victims’ relatives and the survivors," May said.

Hundreds of angry protesters gathered outside 10 Downing Street on Saturday, raising chants that called May a "coward," British media reported. Protesters are demanding to know why long-standing fire safety concerns raised by a tenants' group about the public housing tower, tucked in the city's ritzy North Kensington neighborhood, had not been addressed. They also expressed anger that the prime minister did not meet with survivors or victims of the fire when she initially visited the neighborhood following the tragedy.

“She’s a coward and needs to leave," Tilly Howard, a protester told the Guardian newspaper. "The people are waking up to the right-wing, mainstream media and May just doesn’t get the public mood.”

 

 

Commander Stuart Cundy, a spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police, also cautioned there may have been people in the tower that police are not aware of, which would add to the death toll.

"The figure of 58 are those who are missing and that we have to presume are dead," said Cundy. "It might be that some of those are safe and well but for whatever reason have not reached (out) to let us know. Again, I would urge them if that is you, I don't care the reason, please, please contact us."

Cundy added that it will take weeks or longer to recover and identify all the dead in the housing block that was devastated. Police said 19 injured in the fire remain hospitalized, including 10 who were in critical condition.

The search of the 24-floor building had been paused on Friday due to safety concerns, but has now resumed, Cundy said. "My heart goes out to those affected,” Cundy said. "As soon as we can, we will locate and recover loved ones."

Cundy said authorities plan to release video and photographs from inside the badly-charred building.

nvestigators are trying to figure out why the fire spread so quickly to the top floors especially since the apartment complex underwent a $13 million refurbishment last year that included new thermal cladding to the exterior.

The Grenfell Action Group, the tenants' organization, had expressed concerns for years about the testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site. “All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable,” the group said after the fire broke out, according to the Associated Press.

In a blog post written last year, the Grenfell Action Group warned of "dangerous living conditions" in the tower. "It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO."

CTMO, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organization, has managed the building on behalf of local public authorities who own it. The management organization said it was aware of the complaints made by residents, but that it was "too early to speculate what caused the fire and contributed to its spread."

Earlier on Saturday, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip observed a moment of silence to honor the victims. They paid their respects before the start of the annual Trooping the Color procession that marks the observance of the queen's birthday.

The queen said in a statement that she was "profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need."

"Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity," she added. "United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favor, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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