It’s a tragic scene, unfolding under perfect summer skies on the streets of a small corner of London.
— South West Londoner (@SW_Londoner) June 14, 2017
Everywhere you turn there are desperate friends and family members wondering whether their loved ones are safe after a blaze engulfed a 24-storey residential tower.
Twelve are confirmed dead in the worst fire in living memory but dozens more are missing, with London Fire Brigade officials confirming their firefighters couldn’t get beyond floor 19 of the tower.
Debris from the fire is strewn around adjacent streets as the horror stories were told and retold by eyewitnesses, some with no home to go to.
One resident broke down in tears as they recounted how a woman thought she’d escaped the blaze with her six children, only to reach safety and discover two were missing.
Another said how they’d seen a baby thrown from an upper floor and caught by a bystander.
“People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming,” said Samira Lamrani.
“A woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby.
“I could see people from all angles, banging and screaming for help, obviously the look on their face was death.”
Resident Mahad Egal said he saw people jumping from the upper floors to avoid the flames.
“People were jumping out of the place, it’s a very horrible situation, lives have been lost. I can confirm lives have been lost,” he said.
“There have been fatalities of some of our friends, some of our family, some of our neighbours, it’s heart aching it really is. You just don’t know, right now we can only offer prayers.”
— Anna Schaverien (@annaschav) June 14, 2017
The fire took hold shortly after midnight and soon engulfed all floors of the Grenfell Tower in Kensington, which is home to hundreds of residents.
Over 200 firefighters and officers attended the scene with London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton labelling the incident as ‘unprecedented’ and confirming the cause was still unknown.
More than 80 people were treated for injuries at six different hospitals and 20 are in critical condition, according to NHS officials.
The tower, built in 1974, recently underwent a £9 million redevelopment but a local community group had been expressing concerns about its fire safety for the past four years.
London mayor Sadiq Khan insisted he would demand answers after reports fire alarms didn’t work and residents had been told they were safer to stay inside and await rescue – advice which will have cost lives.
“It was like a scene from a disaster movie,” said one eyewitness. “We couldn’t do anything to help, There was nothing we could do, we could only watch these poor people screaming at their windows.”
— David Pittam (@DavidPittam) June 14, 2017
Among those missing are 24-year old photographer Khadija Saye and her mother Mary Mendy. The promising artist is a close friend of Tottenham MP David Tammy and is mentored by his wife.
“If you have any information about Khadija Saye please contact me,” said Mr Lammy, who added she had been posting on Facebook as the fire took hold. “She is our dear friend, a beautiful soul and emerging artist.”
Friends and family of Mariem Elgwahry are also desperate for information about the 24-year old, who last spoke to her mother at 2.30am.
Ana Ospina is also waiting for news of her 12-year-old niece Jessica Urbano, who became separated from her family during the frantic evacuation.
Michael Paramarsivan was asleep on the seventh floor when the fire started but escaped with partner Hannah and five-year old daughter Thea.
“All I could smell was burning plastic,” he said. “We’ve been told in the event of a fire to put a wet towel by the door and wait to be rescued, that the flats were fireproof for an hour. If we’d waited an hour we would be dead, I made the decision to get out and it saved my families lives.”
It was a glimmer of good news on a day of otherwise unimaginable grief and worry.