LONDON — A tower once home to hundreds of people is now a blackened husk, looming over a neighborhood in grief.
Almost 24 hours after the devastating fire in London’s North Kensington left at least 12 people dead, firefighters are still working to dampen the blaze and search for bodies.
Questions remain over how the fire began and how it spread so quickly through the 1970s-era tower block that was home to as many as 500 people.
Dozens are still missing amid the charred remains of the building which erupted in flames in the early hours of Wednesday morning as many inside still slept.
Community comes together
The local council has been inundated with so many donations of food and supplies that by Thursday morning it had run out of space, and said no more could be accepted.
Dozens of hotel rooms, apartments and other rooms were donated to house the survivors who saw their homes go up in smoke.
On Wednesday evening, on a street in the shadow of the burned tower, volunteers who had been working all day handed out cans of soda and bottles of water, and others spread food and plates out on a long red rug laid on the sidewalk.
“Share the food with everyone,” a marshal encouraged, as local residents and those who had come to offer help sat cross-legged opposite each other as Muslim members of the diverse neighborhood broke their Ramadan fast.
“The best thing about today has been seeing how generous people are,” charity worker Zain Miah told CNN.
“It doesn’t matter what color skin we have, doesn’t matter where we’re from … everyone is here to make sure the people who are affected, and who need help the most, have got that help.”
Some in the community have suggested that Ramadan, the holy month during which observant Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, may have saved lives. Many in the neighborhood and Grenfell Tower itself were awake when the fire broke out in the early hours of Wednesday having an early morning meal before beginning their daily fast.
“A lot of lives were saved because of that, because they were awake,” said neighborhood resident Ahmed Shellat, who claimed to know people in the building.
“They felt the fire quickly, and they saw the heat so they just ran out. If it was like a normal day they would’ve been asleep and there would have caused a lot of casualties.”
Many questions are still unanswered, chief among them, how the fire spread so quickly.
Wayne Brown, London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said in 25 years on the job he had “never seen a fire with that intensity spread so quickly throughout a building of this size.”
Fire chiefs said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze. However, residents of the tower had expressed concerns over the safety of the building, specifically pointing to fire risks, according to a website run by the “Grenfell Action Group.”
Speaking Wednesday afternoon, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he would be “demanding answers” as to whether residents’ earlier concerns were ignored.
The building was recently subject to a multi-million dollar renovation, and local councilors told CNN modern safety certifications had been issued.
High-rise buildings are typically designed to contain fire outbreaks within floors, so it is often safer to stay in an apartment unaffected by a blaze. But this fire seemed to tear up the building from the outside, gutting the outer apartments and blackening most of the facade.
Mike Gilmartin, director of Omega Fire Engineering, said that to meet requirements, a building must have residential sprinklers and fire alarms in every apartment, as well as other features such as a firefighting shaft.
Multiple residents told CNN they did not hear fire alarms when the blaze broke out.
Gilmartin said fire design has evolved over the years but it’s not feasible to make all older buildings comply with the latest legislation. He added it’s standard guidance that residents should stay in their apartments if a fire breaks out, as many of those in Grenfell Tower did.
“It is considered that occupants are safer in their dwelling than coming out into potentially smoke logged corridors,” he said.