Sniffer dogs used as operation continues at London tower block

Police have said it is now a "recovery operation"

Sniffer dogs used as operation continues at London tower block

Image: Rick Findler/PA Wire/PA Images

The number of people confirmed dead after a tower block fire in London has risen to 17.

"We do believe that that number will sadly increase," Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said.

Mohammed Alhajali, a Syrian refugee, was the first person to have been confirmed dead.

Abdulaziz Almashi, a co-founder of the Syria Solidarity Campaign, described the 23-year-old as a "kind, charitable man" who was "full of passion for his family", and who had studied civil engineering in the hope of one day returning and helping his country.

Local photographer Khadija Saye (24) is also known to have died in the blaze.

Khadija Saye, a 24-year-old artist, was also confirmed to have died.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who visited the scene of the tragedy on Thursday morning, has now ordered a full public inquiry into the blaze.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said there were still "unknown numbers of people" inside the block.

Many people from the 120 flats remain missing, with relatives and friends desperately appealing for information.

Health officials said 37 people were still in hospital, 17 of them in a critical condition.

Firefighters are working their way through the smouldering remains of the building's 24 floors, but the fire is out.

Specially trained dogs are being sent in to look for victims.

Ms Cotton said the building is "structurally sound" but that upper floors would be "challenging" to search and the operation could take weeks to complete.

"Tragically we are not expecting to find anyone else alive," she said. "The severity and the heat of the fire will mean that it would be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive."

A specialist fire investigation team has identified what is believed to have been the flat where the fire began.

Ms Cotton said the scene was "unparalleled" when compared to anything she has witnessed before in her 29 years as a firefighter.

"I've truly never seen that in a high-rise building," she said, adding that some of her firefighters had been left "truly traumatised".

"Numerous warnings"

Witnesses of Wednesday's disaster said some people jumped from their flats, while others saw babies and children being dropped into the arms of people below.

London Fire Brigade said it had rescued 65 people and that firefighters managed to battle all the way to the top floor.

The tower, built in 1974, was home to between 400 and 600 people.

Angry locals have pointed the finger at exterior cladding added to the building last year as part of a refurbishment.

Residents' groups said they had raised "numerous warnings" about the tower's safety, while people who escaped complained fire alarms did not go off and criticised advice that told them to stay in their flats.

Grenfell Action Group posted in their blog in November that "only a catastrophic event" would expose the "ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord".

It said there was only one entry and exit during improvement works and that there were exposed gas pipes weeks before the fire.

Rydon, the firm that carried out the work, said in a statement that the project "met all required building regulations".

However, a line from an earlier statement saying that it complied with all "fire regulation and health and safety standards" was left out.

Praise for the community

Amid the devastation, many have praised the way the community has pulled together to help those who escaped the building with only the clothes they were wearing.

Community centres, churches and mosques in the area say they have been inundated with donations of food, water and clothing.

Kensington and Chelsea council said dozens of households had been provided with emergency accommodation.

Others, left homeless, have been staying at the nearby Westway Sports Centre and other rest centres.

Local football clubs Queens Park Rangers and Fulham have also opened their doors and are helping to collect donations.

Some people have used social media to offer transport or a place to stay.

Queen Elizabeth II has said her "thoughts and prayers are with those families who have lost loved ones" and praised volunteers who were helping the victims.

"Prince Philip and I would like to pay tribute to the bravery of firefighters and other emergency services officers who put their own lives at risk to save others," she said.

Kensington Palace has announced that the Prince William, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry will be making a donation to the London Evening Standard newspaper's emergency appeal.