Protesters storm town hall as London highrise fire death toll rises to 30
Search for bodies in dangerous fire-gutted building could last weeks, officials say
Protesters chanting "we want justice" stormed a town hall in London on Friday, demanding information about the investigation into a highrise apartment fire that killed at least 30 people and possibly dozens more.
Police intervened to stop protesters from going upstairs at the Kensington and Chelsea Council town hall as the crowd chanting "We want justice," "bring them out" and "shame on you." A larger crowd of people remained outside.
"I request all of us to remain put until we get a firm response," one of the organizers said.
Grief over the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London turned to outrage amid reports that the materials used in a recent renovation of the public housing block may have fuelled the inferno.
Engineering experts have speculated that outside insulation panels installed on the 24-storey Grenfell Tower may have helped the fire spread rapidly from one floor to the next. The Guardian newspaper reported Friday that contractors installed a cheaper, less flame-resistant type of panelling on the building in the renovation that was completed in May 2016.
'People are dying' over saving money
Angry residents on Friday surrounded Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative Party member of Parliament and leader of the House of Commons, when she visited the neighbourhood, demanding to know why Prime Minister Theresa May hadn't met with survivors when she toured the area a day earlier.
"Because of people saving money, people are dying," one man told Leadsom.
"I do sense the anger," Leadsom said. "I've come here today because I wanted to meet residents. I wanted to show the absolute sorrow and horror of everyone in the House of Commons from the prime minister down."
In announcing another increase in the death toll from the fire — which broke out shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday — Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy told reporters he believes the number of dead will increase.
He said 24 people remain in hospital, including 12 in critical care.
Richard Mills, the fire brigade assistant commissioner, said stabilizing the gutted building will continue in a "protracted" way.
"The building itself is in a very hazardous state," Cundy said. "It will take us a considerable period of time to fully work through Grenfell Tower over the coming weeks to ensure we complete our investigation within the building itself."
The investigation will look in whether any crimes were committed, the police commander said. He added investigators have reached the spot where they believe the fire started and there is nothing to indicate it was deliberately lit.
A man who lived on the fourth floor has reportedly told his neighbours the blaze began in his apartment due to a faulty fridge.
Meanwhile, families searching for loved ones have blanketed an area near the tower with posters searching for answers to the blaze, which began shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday.
The Queen and grandson Prince William arrived on Friday at a donation and rest centre near the highrise. They met with volunteers at the Westway Sports and Fitness Centre, as well as firefighters and police officers, and were shown the supplies donated to those made homeless.
"We want to see you," a man from the neighbour shouted at the Queen as she approached a vehicle to leave. 'I will come back," William responded.
DNA needed to ID victims destroyed
The devastating fire may have been so powerful that it destroyed much of the DNA evidence needed to identify its victims.
As firefighters keep searching the charred ruins of the public housing complex with sniffer dogs and drones, Cundy said there was "a risk that, sadly, we may not be able to identify everybody."
Experts said the intensity of the fire will make naming victims extremely difficult, drawing comparisons to the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks in New York, where 40 per cent of the victims were never identified.
"When you have a fire that takes hold like that, that is literally an inferno. You get a lot of fragmentation of bodies, charring of bones and sometimes all that's left is ash," said Peter Vanezis, a professor of forensic medical sciences at Queen Mary University in London.
He said the temperature of the blaze at Grenfell Tower was comparable to a cremation.
"The longer a fire burns, the less chance you have that there will be enough DNA left to test," Vanezis said. Still, he said if people were protected by any surrounding furniture or debris, it's possible there might be some viable DNA.
Vanezis said the best chance to identify victims may be if officials find any remaining bits of teeth or bone, which are usually the last parts of the body to be destroyed. He said sophisticated techniques could be used to amplify the DNA, but noted such tests can only identify a person's family, not the individual.
Vanezis added that medical devices like a pacemaker or any artificial implants could be used to identify people by finding their registration details.
Another complicating factor is that much of the DNA material that would normally be used to help pinpoint victims — like toothbrushes or combs — was probably also incinerated in the blaze.
Denise Syndercombe Court, a forensic science expert at King's College London, said even tiny fragments of teeth or bone could help, explaining that DNA tests can be run on as few as 10 to 20 cells.
She said many identifications would probably be done via dental records, predicting that such samples would be more likely found from people who died of smoke inhalation, rather than those killed by the fire itself.
Syndercombe Court said the testing process would likely take months.
With files from Reuters and CBC News