A fire broke out at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington this morning. Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry traveled to the blaze to offer help and bottles of water to victims. After the two crates of water he had ran out, some local residents invited him to watch the blaze with them on their balcony. It was a very eerie experience.
Locals heard screams and shouts for help and some even reported people jumping from windows. Though police have not yet reported any fatalities one police officer could be heard shouting to photographers to “have some respect some of these people here have lost family members.”
Churches and community centers are providing temporary shelter, food and drink but hundreds of people are disheveled and in trauma. There are 120 flats in the 26-story building and around 500 people may have been inside before the fire. At one location, police were guiding the newly homeless people to Rugby Portobello, a center where food and shelter were available.
The fire has been raging for many hours, and shreds of the outer plastic decor fell to the floor throughout the blaze. The London Fire service have reported that the first call was made to the fire service at around 1.05 a.m. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has labelled the fire a major incident.
London ambulance services have confirmed that 50 people have been taken to five local hospitals. They have also now declared that a number of fatalities occurred, though specific numbers have yet to be clarified.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
When I got there, the police cordons had not yet been fully implemented. I was able to reach victims and offer them water from the two crates that had been in my home.
People were crying in the streets they were all shocked and stunned. Those who spoke described very harrowing accounts of how people escaped the flats. Many told me that they had not heard any fire alarm.
People heard bangs and pops as the fire raged on. Most people learnt about the fire through kind but panicked neighbors, who woke them up with vigorous knocking. One man told me the fire began from one of the lower levels but rapidly rose and engulfed the building.
Many people were still looking for friends and family; it was a very disturbing place. This situation was exacerbated as people fleeing the blaze left their phones behind.
When my bottles ran out, some of the other locals invited me to view the fire from the vantage point of their balcony. I was there with many others viewing a terrifying yet mesmerizing fire.
It was clear that the fire service could not cope their hose pipes did not even reach the top of the building. An off-duty fireman informed me that the U.K. does not have firefighting helicopters despite an increase in tall buildings. It seems the building was poorly designed with little containment of the fire a major concern.
It seems there was no sprinkler system or fire alarm (or the alarm did not work) and few knew what to do in an emergency. Moreover, the external cladding caught fire rapidly and may have helped spread the fire rapidly, and fragments could be seen dropping to the streets, creating even more hazard. There is need of a London-wide review of fire safety especially in regards to tall high-rise buildings—we must learn from this devastating tragedy.
Watch video: (Click here) There are many further videos on the FB Page of Wilson Chowdhry or Wilson Chowdhry Ilford.
The fire just raged on, and all of us were praying that the building would not collapse as it is in the midst of a densely populated area.
If it had collapsed it would have brought ruin to a newly built gym and a local secondary school. This might not seem important at the moment, but the fact that such a risk became heightened due to a rapidly increasing fire in a building that seems to have little fire protection, should worry everyone.
I will be praying for the disheveled survivors and for solace for all those grieving lost family and friends.
Please pray for the people, especially children, traumatized by this event and now homeless. Pray for rapid healing those who have been injured and for the brave emergency services who have cared for victims throughout the night. Pray for solace for families who have lost loved ones.