Eyewitnesses and fleeing residents described a frantic scene and feelings of utter helplessness as a fire ripped through a London, England, apartment building early Wednesday morning, leaving at least 12 people dead and dozens more in hospital.
A 69-year-old woman sat outside the building Wednesday, watching the fire destroy her home. Ruks Mamudu, who escaped her first-floor apartment in her pyjamas, realizes not everyone was so fortunate.
“I sat there watching my house burn down and watching people cry for help who couldn’t come down,” she said.
A man who fled the building told Reuters that he looked out his front door’s “spyhole” to see “smoke everywhere.”
“I hear screaming, I open the door — I’m just in my boxer shorts — and there’s neighbours running down the stairs, there’s firemen going, ‘get out,'” the unnamed man said.
After he fled the building. the man said he was shocked to see the scope of the fire.
“I looked up, it was just a blaze. It was an absolute nightmare, it was like something out of a horror movie.”
Eyewitnesses described people hanging out of windows, desperate for fresh air.
A woman who lives in an adjacent apartment building said she woke up in her own apartment thick with smoke from the fire at Grenfell Tower. She said people on the higher floors were screaming for help, out of reach of fire crews.
“We saw the people screaming,” said Nassima Boutrig.
“A lot of people said ‘Help! Help! Help!’ The fire brigade could only help downstairs. It was fire up, up, up. They couldn’t stop the fire.”
Multiple witnesses reported seeing a baby and small children being dropped out of windows in an attempt to flee the fire.
“People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming” and one woman indicated she was going to drop the baby, witness Samira Lamrani told Britain’s Press Association news agency. “A gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby.”
One man at the scene of the fire told CNN that he has nine friends who are still unaccounted for. The eyewitness, identified only as Reuben, said the fire suddenly “shot up the sides,” of the building, quickly turning into an “inferno.”
“All I can do is worry, people around me are screaming [that] their mums are in there, their cousins are in there … it’s just tragic.”
The high-rise public housing block contains 120 apartments on 24 floors. Authorities fear the death toll will rise, predicting ” a complex recovery operation” in the coming days.
“This is a completely unprecedented fire,” Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters.
“In my 29 years in London Fire Brigade I have never seen a fire of this nature.”
Despite reports that the building had recently undergone a multi-million dollar upgrade, some residents said the fire alarm didn’t ring Wednesday. The people living in the building have complained in vain for years to local authorities about building safety, even keeping a blog detailing the building’s “fire risk.”
One resident who fled from his 16th-floor apartment credits a neighbour’s fire alarm for his escape.
“I’m lucky to be alive. A neighbour’s smoke alarm went off and another neighbour phoned and told me to get out,” he said.
“I consider this mass murder.”
Fire officials said it was too early to determine the cause, and that an investigation is underway.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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