Grenfell Tower Fire: People Search for Missing Family Members; Many Had Warned that Building Was Fire Risk

Five-year-old Thea West escaped from Grenfell Tower with her family.
Five-year-old Thea West escaped from Grenfell Tower with her family.

No sooner had the flames begun to fade than the anger began to spill out.

On the streets of North Kensington in west London, where a 24-story apartment building caught fire early Wednesday, those who had once warned of such a catastrophe gazed towards the smoke endlessly billowing from Grenfell Tower.

Ambulances and fire engines lined nearby Bramley Road, and a family gathered together as the debris fell around them.

A woman named Susan was in tears. Her family lives on the 22nd floor. When the fire broke out shortly before 1 a.m., she was at her friend Suzanne’s house, breaking her Ramadan fast with a pre-dawn meal.

She had stopped by after work. Her three young children stayed behind, and she had not heard from any of them since.

“The only reason that Susan wasn’t in that tower is that she was eating with our family for Ramadan,” Suzanne explained.

“If she had not been with us she would have been in the tower … I don’t want to think about it. Now, we wait to hear … and we pray.”

Susan and Suzanne — who both declined to give their last names to CNN — spent the early hours of Wednesday visiting hospitals and shelter for signs of hope.

Susan’s phone would not stop ringing, nor did the phones of her friends. All of this happened as the air filled thick with smoke, the smell of burning plastic floating through an eerily quiet London street.

“The residents said this would happen, and the council did nothing,” Suzanne said. “The tower had been refurbished but people were unhappy. They said it wasn’t safe.”

‘People are scared’

While Susan cried, children on a nearby balcony laughed and joked while playing with a ball. A cyclist stopped to take a photo of the scene before peddling off on his way again.

As the sun fought its way through the thick gray plume, locals who had spent the night in the streets began to spring into action. Carrying bags of food and water, they trod through the vast black debris which spread as far as the eye could see.

Local shopkeepers wheeled shopping carts full of supplies towards pop-up donation centers, stopping along the way to hand out fruit and water to police and firefighters battling the blaze, which has left at least 12 people dead.

Outside the Harrow Club, one of the centers offering shelter to residents of the tower, volunteers rushed to help.

Jade, a local resident who declined to give CNN her last name, had been there all morning, helping those who ran for their lives as flames engulfed the high-rise and pieces of the building fell from the sky.

Residents, weary and still in their night clothes, began to emerge as further refuges were set up around the local area to help with the increasing flow of people.

“I’ve been with the firefighters, giving them water,” Jade says. “They told me they’ve never seen anything like it. They’re in tears.”

“The people are scared. They’ve nowhere to go. Everyone is trying to help. This is a really tight community, a real melting pot. We stick together. We do it because it’s what you do.”

Jade is heartbroken for the victims, but she’s also visibly angry — and she is not alone.

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