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London high-rise death toll rises to 12; more feared dead

By
Andrew V. Pestano and Allen Cone
Firefighters respond to a massive fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor apartment building in north Kensington, London, Britain, on Wednesday. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
Firefighters respond to a massive fire at the Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor apartment building in north Kensington, London, Britain, on Wednesday. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

June 14 (UPI) -- The death toll in a high-rise apartment fire in west London rose to 12 and the number is expected to rise, police said Wednesday.

"This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12," Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said about the fire at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington. "Sadly, I don't anticipate there will be further survivors," he said.

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Firefighters rescued 65 people from the 24-story building that contained about 120 apartments. Others escaped on their own power.

A total of 78 patients were treated at six hospitals across London, including 18 in critical condition. Of those injuries, 68 were transported by ambulances and another 10 come in on their own.

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London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Steve Apter said "almost all" of the building had been searched but there were "still pockets of fire yet to be extinguished in places particularly difficult to reach."

Drones were used to assess the building's stability.

The blaze first broke out at 1:16 a.m. Wednesday. Metropolitan Police officers arrived at the scene to assist the London Fire Brigade and the London Ambulance Service.

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Eyewitnesses reported they saw lights -- supposedly mobile phones or torches -- flashing at the top of building, and trapped residents were coming to their windows -- some holding children.

Police said "several hundred" people would been have in the building -- most sleeping -- when the fire broke out.

"Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this truly shocking fire at Grenfell Tower," Cundy said earlier in a statement on Wednesday.

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Cundy said an extensive area was sealed off around the decimated building, which was engulfed in flames in most parts from the second floor up to the roof.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said the fire is "unprecedented." She said more than 200 firefighters and officers responded along with 40 fire engines and other specialist vehicles to the fire.

Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization said in a statement "it is too early to speculate what caused the fire and contributed to its spread. We will cooperate fully with all the relevant authorities in order to ascertain the cause of this tragedy.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was "truly devastated to see the horrific scenes of the major fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington."

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"My heart goes out to everyone affected. I am sad to confirm that we now know there have been fatalities and more than 50 people have been taken to hospitals," Khan said in a statement. "There will be a great many questions over the coming days as to the cause of this tragedy and I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers."

The building's safety precautions have been called into question, with some saying cladding -- building material usually attached directly to the frame of a building to act as an outer wall to provide insulation and protection from the elements -- caused the fire to spread.

Construction for the building was completed in 1974 and it underwent a renovation that was completed in May 2016. Cladding was added during the recent renovations.

Mike Penning, a member of British Parliament who is a former firefighter, said "cladding was clearly spreading the fire."

Paul Munakr, who lives on the seventh floor, escaped.

"As I was going down the stairs, there were firefighters, truly amazing firefighters that were actually going upstairs, to the fire, trying to get as many people out the building as possible," he told the BBC. He said he was alerted to the fire not by fire alarms but by people on the street below, shouting "don't jump, don't jump."

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Alice, a London resident who lives nearby, told The Guardian that she saw one person jump from the building while it was in flames.

Michael Paramasivan, a Grenfell Tower resident who was on the seventh floor, told NBC News the scene in the stairwell during evacuation was as "absolute horror story."

"There was smoke everywhere, people screaming and shouting ... It all happened so fast but was really, really frightening. I'm shaking." Paramasivan said. "They say you're supposed to put a towel under the door and wait for rescue but I wasn't going to hang around ... There was some kind of alarm but it was barely audible. It certainly wouldn't have woken you up."

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