LONDON (AP) — Firefighters extinguished the last of the flames in the devastating west London blaze as they searched for more victims Thursday, a day after the high-rise apartment building fire that killed at least 12 people. Entire families were missing, and the death toll is certain to rise.
Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said authorities genuinely don’t know how many people died and that firefighters have been traumatized by the inability to save more people.
“Tragically now we are not expecting to find anyone else alive,” Cotton told Sky News. “The severity and the heat of the fire will mean that it will be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive.”
More than 200 firefighters worked through the night and parts of the building were still seen as being unsafe. Now that the smoke has cleared, the public could only gape at the huge burned-out hulk in the working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood.
The blaze early Wednesday in the 24-story building in west London’s North Kensington district also injured 74 others, 18 of them critically, and left an unknown number missing. A tenants’ group had complained for years about the risk of a fire.
Up to 600 people lived in 120 apartments in the Grenfell Tower. After announcing the updated death toll of 12 in the afternoon, Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said that “we believe this number will sadly increase.”
Prime Minister Theresa May promised an investigation and she planned to visit the site on Thursday. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment buildings around the British capital.
The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12:54 a.m. and the first engines arrived within six minutes.
Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape during the nighttime fire.
“The flames, I have never seen anything like it. It just reminded me of 9/11,” said Muna Ali, 45. “The fire started on the upper floors. … Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly. It had completely spread within half an hour.”
The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but a tenants’ group had complained for years about the risk of a fire.
More than 1 million pounds ($1.27 million) has been raised to help victims of the tragedy as volunteers and charities worked through the night to find shelter and food for people who lost their homes.
Associated Press writer Frank Griffiths contributed to this report.