London tower block blaze death toll rises to 12

More than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines fought off the blaze

London tower block blaze death toll rises to 12

Image: London Fire Brigade/Twitter

At least 12 people have died in a huge fire in a London tower block, but officials expect the death toll to continue to rise with residents missing and 18 people in critical care.

Firefighters were called to the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in north Kensington at 12.54am on Wednesday after the blaze broke out.

It is reported to have been sparked by an exploding fridge.

Witnesses described how they watched people jump out of the high-rise block, while a baby was dropped out of a window and caught on the street below.

Six hospitals across the capital are treating 78 people, with 18 in critical care.

Police warned the number of dead is expected to rise during "a complex recovery operation over a number of days".

Emergency teams have been seen carrying bodies from the remains of the building.

Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, contains 120 flats and is thought to have been home to between 400 and 600 people.

Friends and relatives of those missing are using social media to appeal for information about their loved ones.

More than 200 firefighters and 44 fire engines battled the blaze on Wednesday, with some sustaining "minor injuries".

A structural engineer assessed the tower's stability but judged the building was not in danger of collapsing.

The London Fire Brigade said they would be on scene at least through Wednesday night and "until the job is done".

The work "continues to be a challenging incident", they added.

Irish reaction

The Department of Foreign Affairs say there is no indication of Irish citizens affected.

"The department and our embassy in London are closely monitoring developments relating to the major fire in West London in the early hours of this morning.

"Our thoughts are with those who have lost their loved ones in this terrible incident and with those who are being treated in hospital for their injuries.

"Our embassy in London is in close contact with the relevant local authorities.

"As of now, we have no confirmation that any Irish citizens have been caught up in the incident", it says.

President Michael D Higgins has expressed his sympathy to all those affected.

In a statement, he says: "May I offer my heartfelt sympathy and that of the people of Ireland to the families of those who have lost their lives, as well as to those injured and affected by this dreadful tragedy.

"Our thoughts are with all those who are grieving or suffering at this sad time.

"I have asked to be kept informed as further details emerge.

"I will be writing to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to convey the sympathy and support of the Irish people."

Anyone who has concerns for loved ones can make contact with the Irish embassy in London on +44-207-235-2171, or the Consular Assistance Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin on (01)-408-2527.

'No alarm, no bell'

Witnesses described hearing screams, watching people jump out of the high-rise block and a baby being dropped out of a window and caught on the street below.

Others told of seeing people shouting and waving from the windows for help, and residents shining torches from within as the inferno erupted in the dead of night.

Mahad, who escaped the fire-ravaged Kensington tower block, said the blaze began when his neighbour's fridge exploded.

He said: "There was no alarm, there was no bell, there was no sense of urgency.

"My neighbour is the one who knocked on our door. He said it was his house where the explosion happened. He said his fridge had exploded."

A structural engineer assessed the tower's stability but judged the building was not in danger of collapsing.

Image via @LondonFire on Twitter

Footage on social media showed the tower block engulfed in fire, with huge flames stretching over several floors.

The fire brigade said the fire had spread throughout the entire building, now covered in plumes of smoke with visible pockets of fire within the charred structure.

Mini explosions could be heard as the blaze shattered windows in the tower, while debris and ash fell to the ground.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described it as an "unprecedented incident", something she had not seen in her 29 years of service.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known, but is being investigated, she added.

Firefighters have managed to reach the 20th floor as they continue searching for survivors. Some have sustained "minor injuries".

Any residents unaccounted for who escaped are being urged to contact the emergency services to reassure concerned loves ones.

People unaccounted for

Witness Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman try to save a baby by dropping it from a window "on the ninth or 10th floor".

She said: "The windows were slightly ajar, a woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby.

"Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby."

London Ambulance said it had sent a "number of resources" to the scene, including its Hazardous Area Response Team, after the fire was first reported at 12.54am.

London's Mayor Sadiq Khan, who visited the site, said "a lot of people" were unaccounted for and that of the 120 flats in Grenfell Tower, many had four-bedrooms.

He added questions needed to be answered in relation to the blaze.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "deeply saddened" by the "tragic loss of life" and called a cross-party meeting.

Joanna O'Connor, a local resident, said: "At about 2.00am I was woken up by screaming, sirens and helicopters. We came outside and were confronted with the building that was completely engulfed in flames.

"It was a real shock and there were hundreds of people lining the streets, we could still hear screaming from the building and people were milling around in shock, crying.

"One of our neighbours, her sister, husband and children were in the building, it was their neighbours' flat that caught fire. So it's very close to us, we've got neighbours whose families are in that building."

Celeste Thomas lives across the road from the tower and said residents and families were "trying to find each other" following the evacuation.

She said: "Police have moved everyone back out of direct sight but I can hear cracking and debris falling."

The tower block was refurbished internally and externally last year.

Additional reporting: Fionnuala Jones