650 apartments in London towers evacuated over fire fears

LONDON (AFP) — Residents of 650 London apartments were evacuated Saturday due to fire safety fears in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but 83 people refused to leave their homes, according to local officials.

Four of the five Chalcots Estate towers in Camden, north London, were deemed unsafe after they were found to use cladding similar to that on Grenfell, widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.

“Following extensive joint visits and inspections the brigade advised that there were a number of fire safety issues in the buildings and recommended that residents should not remain,” said a London Fire Brigade spokesman.

The dramatic decision follows urgent testing of the towers’ exteriors, which were installed by the same contractor as the Grenfell Tower.

Residents from all five Chalcots towers were initially evacuated, but one of the five — Blashford — was deemed safe and residents allowed to return.

A resident (L) is helped by a council official as she leaves Burnham Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London on June 24, 2017 as residents evacuate because of fire safety concerns. (AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS)

Other residents faced chaos, with temporary accommodation offered in a local leisure center and hotels, but some refused to move.

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould told BBC News that 83 residents had refused to leave, adding the situation “will become a matter for the fire service”.

Resident Renee Williams, 90, said she and her neighbours had been given no warning.

“No official came and told us what’s going on, I saw it on the TV so I packed an overnight bag,” she told the Press Association.

“But now they’re telling us we’re going to be out of our homes for the next two to four weeks. There’s no organisation and it’s chaos.”


Council leader Gould acknowledged it was “a scary time” but vowed “to make sure that they stay safe.

“The cost we can deal with later,” she added.

The council has been booking hotels across London and the works are expected to take up to four weeks.

Michelle Urquhart, who has been living in the Chalcots Estate’s Bray tower, said the situation was “frightening”.

“I don’t know where we are going to go.

“One man in a suit said to me ‘you can’t stay here tonight’.”

In an update early Saturday, Camden Council said they had secured “hundreds of hotel beds for Chalcots’ residents.”

Firefighters are pictured outside Burnham Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London on June 24, 2017 as residents evacuate because of fire safety concerns.  (AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS)

On Friday, police said that manslaughter charges could be brought over the Grenfell inferno, after finding that the fire started with a faulty fridge and the building’s cladding had failed safety tests.

Fiona McCormack from the London police said that tiles and insulation on the outside of the building “don’t pass any safety tests.”

McCormack said police were investigating companies involved in the building and refurbishment of the tower, and possible “health and safety and fire safety offences”.

The cladding was installed on the 24-storey council-owned Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974, as part of a refurbishment completed last year.

It has prompted a wider review of social housing which has identified at least 600 towers in England with similar cladding.

Charity hit

McCormack said all “complete bodies” had been removed from the burnt-out tower and there was “a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat”.

She said officers had been through all levels of the tower but that the full forensic search could take until the end of the year.

Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats in West London on June 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Adrian Dennis)

Police fear the toll may be higher because some residents may have been living in the tower illegally.

Prime Minister Theresa May stressed on Thursday that all Grenfell victims, regardless of their immigration status, would be able to access whatever help they need.

May said her thoughts were with the evacuated Chalcots residents.

“We will work with and support the emergency services and relevant authorities to safeguard the public,” she said.

Six men and three women killed in the Grenfell inferno have been formally identified.

They are Mohammad Alhajali, 23; Khadija Saye, 24; Abufars Ibrahim, 39; Khadija Khalloufi, 52; and Anthony Disson, 65, while the identities of three men and one woman have not been made public at the request of their families.

Nine patients remain in hospital, of which three are in a critical condition.

Meanwhile the government ordered immediate checks on the Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer model blamed for the blaze.

A charity single released to raise money for survivors of the fire reached the top spot in the British charts on Friday after selling more than 170,000 copies.

The track is a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by 50 artists including Stormzy, Emeli Sande, Robbie Williams and Paloma Faith.


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