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Fire Engulfs Apartment Tower in London

Meriam Antur, who lived on the 19th floor, said she was asleep with her two young children when she woke up to the sound of sirens followed by shouting in the corridors. She tried to call her husband, who was away, then reached a cousin who told her to get out.

“When I opened the door, my neighbors were running back and forth in the corridor shouting at each other,” she said. “I didn’t understand until my friend came in and said we had to wait for the firemen and couldn’t go down.”

“I was so scared, it took so long. My children were crying and I’m pregnant,” she said, clasping her belly. “I was so scared. I thought we were going to die.”

“I don’t know how long it took but it felt so long and there was smoke coming up, filling the corridors.” she said. “I got into my flat and put a towel in the door and started to pray, hugging my children. I thought we were going to die.”

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A fire that broke out early Wednesday quickly engulfed Grenfell Tower, a high-rise apartment building in the west of London. Credit Toby Melville/Reuters

Ms. Antur then broke down and she and her children were led away by rescue workers. A few feet away, a woman in a nightgown kept screaming the name “Elsa.”

Ms. Antur’s cousin said it was a neighbor, who could not find her 6 year old daughter.

Mohammed Bouya, who lives nearby said when he got there at 1:15 a.m., “one side of the building was on fire, there were people at the window calling out for help. You could see people looking out of the window.”

“I was told that they were told to stay where they were while they tried to get the fire under control,” Mr. Bouya said. “I could hear people screaming for help,”

Mr. Bouya said he heard a friend talking by telephone to his sister, who lives on the 11th floor.

“He put the police officer on to her on the phone and he told her to put wet towels on her head until they can try to reach her,” he said, adding that later the man was unable to make contact with the sister.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, the Fire Brigade said.

Dan Daly, an assistant fire commissioner, said: “Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire. This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances.”

Photos and videos posted on social media earlier showed flames shooting from one side of the building.

At least 40 fire engines were at the scene.

Abdul Kadiri, who stood with his family watching the fire, said he had heard sirens about 1:45 a.m.

“My friend lives with his family on the 15th floor of the building,” he said. “I called my friend and he had no idea what was going on,” he said. “I told him to grab his family and get out and he hung up.”

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A helicopter near billowing smoke. The London Fire Brigade said the flames had spread from the second floor to the top floor of the 27-story building, which contains some 120 apartments. Credit Toby Melville/Reuters

When the friend got out safely, Mr. Kadiri said, “he told me there was smoke everywhere and he got out with the help of the firefighters who were on the fourth floor. He was a real mess and didn’t say much, he was just so happy to be out of there. He was crying thinking of all the children that would have been asleep on the higher floors and probably weren’t able to get out.”

Witnesses said they could see lights — thought to be flashlights — blinking at the top of the apartments.

George Clarke, an architect and television personality, who said he was 100 yards away, told the BBC: “I’m getting covered in ash. That’s how bad it is.”

He continued: “It’s so heartbreaking. I’ve seen someone flashing their torches at the top level and they obviously can’t get out.”

Tim Downie, another witness, told the BBC that part of the building was “completely burned away.”

He said: “It looks very bad, very very bad. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s just such a big fire. The whole building is just crumbling. It’s just billowing black smoke.”

A residents’ association, the Grenfell Action Group, has regularly complained in its newsletter of fire hazards in the building and what it called inattention by the landlord.

According to the Get West London website, the Grenfell Tower block had a £10 million renovation, completed in May 2016. The upgrade – which included the installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows, and a new communal heating system – was financed by the local council as part of a multi-million-dollar improvement project in the area.

According to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s website, the tower block was built in 1974 and contained 120 homes, managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization on behalf of the council.

Source: NYT > World

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