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U.K. Government Takes Control of London Fire Response Amid Criticism

Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the Exchequer, said on Sunday that the inquiry would look at whether the right regulations were in place and whether they had been followed.

“Did it take too long? Did we handle it in the correct way? The inquiry will determine that,” he told the BBC journalist Andrew Marr in an interview.

Mrs. May, who had been criticized for not responding with sufficient alacrity and empathy, met with survivors of the fire on Saturday and acknowledged that the government’s response had been “not good enough.”

On Sunday, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea — the owner of Grenfell Tower, and one of 32 boroughs that make up Greater London, along with the financial district, known as the City — was stripped of authority for the response.


Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has promised an inquiry, and the police have opened a criminal investigation into the fire that destroyed the 24-story building. Credit Neil Hall/Reuters

The responsibility was transferred to a team comprising officials from other parts of London, as well as the central government, the British Red Cross and police and fire officials.

“We want to make clear that whilst the emergency and local community response was nothing short of heroic, we know that the initial response was simply not good enough on the ground,” Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of the council in Southwark, another London borough, said on behalf of the team. “People are angry, and rightfully so.”

The leader of the Kensington and Chelsea Borough council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, said on Sunday that he understood the criticisms but added, “It does take time, in any situation, to get emergency lines and contact points up and running.”

Each household that lost its home in the fire will receive 5,500 pounds (about $ 7,000) in emergency funds, the government said. It also said it would help the family of Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee who was one of the first victims of the fire to be formally identified, to travel to Britain for his funeral.

In a statement, the Grenfell Tower residents’ association said it appreciated the changes.

“We are angry about the inadequacy of the response and the longstanding neglect of our buildings by the council and building management,” it said. “Now we need to see real action and immediate results with centralized coordination of the relief effort, with residents closely involved.”

Mayor Khan said the catastrophe should prompt a broader review of the safety of high-rise towers built to house people of modest means. “Nowadays, we would not dream of building towers to the standards of the 1970s, but their inhabitants still have to live with that legacy,” he wrote in an op-ed published on Saturday in The Guardian. “It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down.”

Source: NYT > World

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