Grenfell Tower residents said they had warned about fire hazards for years before their London public housing project became a 24-story cinder. On Friday, they stormed the local government council, accusing officials first of ignoring them and then of leaving them without financial assistance and lodging, or even a rough accounting of their missing loved ones.
With scores of residents still unaccounted for since the early Wednesday fire, frustrated survivors demanded from government officials help and a roster — or at least the number — of tower residents.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Mayor Sadiq Khan were heckled on separate visits with survivors. The queen and Prince William, upon leaving a relief center for the victims, were subjected to calls of “What about the children?”
The authorities confirmed on Friday that at least 30 people had died and estimated that the final toll could be more than 70 killed in an inferno so intense that the remains of many of the victims will be unidentifiable. And already, the fire at the Grenfell Tower housing project — its scorched shell looming above one of London’s most upscale neighborhoods — has become a grim symbol of class inequality in a city that has long been a magnet for global wealth.
After revelations that corner-cutting by government officials and building contractors alike may have played a role in the deadly fire, resentment played out in public.
Mrs. May, already weakened by her failure to win a majority in this month’s elections, has called for a public inquiry into the causes of the fire. But her public reaction has been criticized as halting and unempathetic, especially her initial failure to meet with victims’ families.
The criticisms echoed those made of her election campaign, during which she was accused of preferring speeches in carefully controlled environments. On Friday, finally, she perilously ventured outside that comfort zone, meeting with survivors and promising a fund of about $6.5 million for emergency supplies, food, clothes and other costs.
“Everyone affected by this tragedy needs reassurance that the government is there for them at this terrible time — and that is what I am determined to provide,” she said outside St. Clement’s Church, near the tower.
Angry residents heckled her with shouts of “Coward!”
More than one commentator saw the fire as Mrs. May’s Hurricane Katrina moment, not merely for the self-inflicted political damage, but for the evident distance between a cosseted political class and the victims, who were overwhelmingly immigrants and poor.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Ceylan Yeginsu and Stephen Castle