LONDON, Jun 15 – A Malaysian family was among those evacuated in the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block of flats in West London yesterday. The fire, believed to have been caused by a faulty fridge on the 3rd or 4th floor of the 24-storey block in the North Kensington district in the early hours, engulfed almost the entire building in just half an hour, eyewitnesses said.
At least 12 people have been reported killed so far and 78 more were injured in the towering inferno. Zeferi Mohamad Zaidel, 38, his wife and two young children, who lived in the Grenfell Tower annexe, were awakened by neighbours who urged them to flee.
They rushed to safety but are now still awaiting to hear the fate of their home on the lower floor of the building. Residents have still not been allowed to return to the mostly gutted building. Neighbours watched helplessly as the fire spread ferociously, lighting up the early morning sky and people reported seeing parents throwing out babies from windows to people down below.
There were people waving and shining lights, some from their mobile phones, to attract attention while some merely stayed put in their flats, apparently following instructions that were given to residents by the building’s fire management. A lot of the rescue and door-knocking work in the early morning when the fire broke out was done by Muslims in the area who were still up preparing for the ‘sahur’ meal before starting their daily fast for Ramadan.
The Independent newspaper quoted one Andre Busso, 33, who said that Muslims played a big part in getting the people out of the burning building. There were still people looking for lost family members or friends at noontime yesterday. Grenfell Tower is one of the many high-rise council housing buildings in North Kensington.
Such high risers have almost four demographic aspects in common – immigrant population, families with many children, disabled residents and the occasional loners. It was built in 1974 and had just been through a major refurbishment that included the introduction of the exterior cladding that some tenants now allege was the cause of the fire spreading so quickly upwards and sideways.
North Kensington is a very mixed area near the Portobello Road area, in the less prosperous end of the well-off Notting Hill Gate community with a substantial Moroccan and Somali community living in the neighbourhood. Today the local mosque, the al Manar, together with churches in the area, announced that they are opening their doors to victims regardless of religion. The mosque has also become a centre for the collection of food and articles of clothing.
Grenfell Tower stands as a dark stump in the skyline of West London. Smoke is still rising from the charred remains and deep inside the dark windows one can still see flickering flames. Engineers are now studying the structure of the building that has been exposed to so much intense heat that there is a fear that it may collapse. — Bernama