London fire death toll rises to 17; tower search ‘could take weeks’


dpa

The death toll in the fire at London’s Grenfell Tower rose to 17 on Thursday, with many still believed missing, as a fire chief warned that a full search of the gutted building “could take weeks.”

“I want to be realistic, this could be a long process,” London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters.

Cotton said firefighters were still unable to access outer areas of the upper floors in the 24-storey tower due to safety concerns over possible falling debris or structural collapse.

Speaking alongside Cotton, Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said the death toll was expected to climb further.

Thirty-seven people remain in hospital, including 17 in critical condition, Cundy said.

He declined to answer questions on concerns over the safety of the building, after local residents and several experts said recently installed external cladding could have been a major factor in the rapid spread of the fire.

“Our absolute priority for all of us is identifying and locating those that are missing,” Cundy said, adding that safety issues would be examined during a formal investigation.

Cotton told Sky News earlier that the severity and heat of the fire “would mean it is an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive” in the building.

Sixty firefighters and eight fire engines remain at the scene, according to an earlier statement by the London Fire Brigade.

Prime Minister Theresa May met firefighters and local residents on Thursday near Grenfell Tower. She made no immediate statement, in what was billed as a private visit.

On Wednesday, she said she was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life.”

“Her thoughts are with all those affected and the emergency services,” May’s office said in a statement, adding that the would provide help “as necessary.”

Queen Elizabeth II also paid tribute to the emergency services and the local community on Thursday for their response to the fire.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those families who have lost loved ones in the Grenfell Tower fire and the many people who are still critically ill in hospital,” the queen said in a statement.

She said it was “heartening to see the incredible generosity of community volunteers rallying to help those affected by this terrible event.”