79 now believed to have died in London high-rise fire

Posted: Updated:
(Metropolitan Police via AP) In this photo released by the Metropolitan Police on Sunday, June 18, 2017, a firefighter stands outside of the Grenfell Tower after fire engulfed the 24-storey building, in London. (Metropolitan Police via AP) In this photo released by the Metropolitan Police on Sunday, June 18, 2017, a firefighter stands outside of the Grenfell Tower after fire engulfed the 24-storey building, in London.

By DANICA KIRKA and FRANK GRIFFITHS
Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - London police said 79 people are now believed to have died in the fire that swept through a high-rise apartment building last week, making it the deadliest blaze in recent British history.

Authorities increased the count Monday after spending the weekend working with families to identify all those who are missing and believed to have died inside the 24-story Grenfell Tower, as well as the five victims that have been formally identified, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

Flames engulfed the building in less than an hour early on June 14, trapping many residents before firefighters could reach them.

London police late Sunday released photographs of the devastation inside the 120-unit building to show the public and frustrated family members why the search for victims is taking so long. The three photos show different views inside the charred, ruined wreck. The search and recovery operation is likely to take many weeks and some victims may never be identified because of the intensity of the fire, Cundy said.

"Sadly, for many families, they have lost more than one family member, and my heart truly goes out to them," he said. "This is an incredibly distressing time for all of them. I've said before one of my absolute priorities is to identify people as quick as we can, to recover them from Grenfell Tower."

The Grenfell Tower disaster is now the deadliest fire in mainland Britain since at least the turn of the last century.

It ranks above the fire at Bradford City Stadium on May 11, 1985, when 56 people died as flames swept through the wooden stands during a soccer game, according to the Emergency Events Database at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. The group compiles natural and man-made disasters around the world from 1900 to the present.

Cundy was asked to describe the scene inside the building. Composing himself, he said "It's fair to say it is incredibly emotional working in there."

Britain held a moment of silence for the victims on Monday, with emergency service workers bowing their heads in respect. People applauded as firefighters walked past.

Two British ministers have said that exterior cladding used in Grenfell Tower's recent renovation may have been banned under U.K. building regulations. Experts believe the aluminum composite panels, which contain a plastic insulation material, may have helped spread the flames quickly up the outside of the tower.

Trade Minister Greg Hands said Sunday the government is carrying out an "urgent inspection" of the roughly 2,500 similar tower blocks across Britain to assess their safety, while an opposition lawmaker urged the government to quickly secure any documents related to the Grenfell renovation for a criminal investigation.

Cundy said a criminal investigation began the day of the fire and will look at a "wide range" of issues, including the renovation project, the public housing block's management and maintenance, and fire-safety measures. Cundy has promised to share with relevant authorities any issues that need to be addressed immediately to protect public safety.

"I'd like to reassure everybody that we will be looking at all criminal offenses that may have been committed by any individual or any organization," he said. "We will go where the evidence may take us. And where offenses have been committed, I will do everything within my gift to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice."

Anger has been mounting in recent days as relatives and community members expressed frustration with the lack of information about those still missing and the slow pace of efforts to find temporary housing for the hundreds of now-homeless tower residents.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, criticized shortly after the blaze for failing to meet with victims, says the public inquiry into the tragedy will report directly to her. She also says she will receive daily reports from the stricken neighborhood and has established a $6.4 million emergency fund to help the tower families.

British health authorities will also provide long-term bereavement counselling for those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • New Jersey SlideshowsSlideshowsMore>>

  • Photos: 2018 Food Truck Friday Guests

    Photos: 2018 Food Truck Friday Guests

    These dressed up hot dogs are a specialty of Callahan's food truck.These dressed up hot dogs are a specialty of Callahan's food truck.

    A look at 2018's Food Truck Friday guests who have visited the News 12 studio.

    A look at 2018's Food Truck Friday guests who have visited the News 12 studio.

  • PHOTOS: Fleet Week 2018

    PHOTOS: Fleet Week 2018

    Wednesday, May 23 2018 8:53 PM EDT2018-05-24 00:53:14 GMT
    Fleet Week 2018Fleet Week 2018
    Fleet Week 2018Fleet Week 2018

    Photos of the 2018 Fleet Week ships coming up the Hudson River to Manhattan. There are 14 ships for the public to visit and tour. The celebration lasts a week. It has been held nearly every year since 1984.

    Photos of the 2018 Fleet Week ships coming up the Hudson River to Manhattan. There are 14 ships for the public to visit and tour. The celebration lasts a week. It has been held nearly every year since 1984.

  • Memorial Day 2018 Photos

    Memorial Day 2018 Photos

    Whether you are honoring loved ones, attending a parade or spending time with family, News 12 wants to see your Memorial Day photos. Post them on Instagram or Twitter with #N12MemorialDay.

    Whether you are honoring loved ones, attending a parade or spending time with family, News 12 wants to see your Memorial Day photos. Post them on Instagram or Twitter with #N12MemorialDay.

sorry to interrupt
your first 20 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 20 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 20 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login or create an account to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to news12.com while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."