A number of people were killed, at least 50 injured and many others missing on Wednesday as a fire ripped through a high-rise apartment building in west London where residents had long warned of the potential risk of a catastrophic blaze.
A thick plume of smoke could be seen for miles around, while witnesses reported people jumping from open windows near the top of the 24-story building after being trapped by the advancing flames.
Hundreds of other residents, many who had been asleep when the blaze broke out shortly before 1 a.m., were forced to flee down dark and smoky stairwells. The building, which is located in a poverty-stricken pocket of one of London’s wealthiest neighborhoods, was engulfed within minutes, said locals.
“It was like a horror movie, smoke was coming from everywhere,” said building resident Adeeb, who hobbled down nine flights of stairs on crutches with his wife and three children. Adeeb, who declined to give his last name, said there had been no alarms, and that he only learned of the fire when his daughter woke him.
“She said ‘I can see fire’ and I opened the door and could see smoke,” added Adeeb, who is originally from Syria but has lived in Britain for 16 years. One of his daughters was hospitalized.
“I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days,” said Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police.
He said it was likely to be some time before police could identify the victims, adding that it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire, BBC reported. The 24-storey block, which is still on fire, looks at risk of collapsing, it said. Around 250 firefighters are still on the scene tackling the burning block and a structural engineer is on the site to ensure the building is structurally sound.
Firefighters rescued “large numbers”, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan said “a lot” of people were unaccounted for. Eyewitnesses reported seeing people trapped inside the burning building screaming for help and shouting for their children to be saved. People screamed for help as the fire took hold of the building. Some residents were seen using bedsheets to make their escape from the tower block.
“This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton told reporters.