Much Remains Unclear About London Tower Block Fire

The deadly blaze at London’s Grenfell Tower apartment block on June 14 was Britain’s worst fire disaster in decades. What’s known — and not known — about the catastrophe. ——— HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED? It’s still not clear. Police say 79 people are either confirmed to have died or are missing and presumed dead. But these numbers are not precise, and police expect them to change. Officials don’t know exactly how many people were in the 24-story building when the fire broke out early Wednesday. Up to 600 people lived in the 120-unit building. Officials say they may never have a precise death toll or be able to identify all of the victims. Dozens of people also were injured — including at least 10 in critical condition — and many more have been displaced. ——— WHO LIVED THERE? The public housing block was home to a wide variety of nationalities, including many originally from the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. The mixture reflected London’s stature as a magnet for people trying to make a fresh start. The first officially confirmed victim was a 23-year-old Syrian refugee whose grieving parents said he had come to Britain with ambitions to forge a new life. ——— HAD THERE BEEN WARNINGS OF PROBLEMS WITH FIRE SAFETY AT THE TOWER? Activists had been complaining about fire safety at the tower for several years, with fears intensifying after a renovation completed last year that included new exterior cladding. The Grenfell Action Group wrote on its blog in November that its members “firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence” of the building’s management. They say their concerns were ignored. ——— WHAT HAS BEEN THE POLITICAL FALLOUT? Prime Minister Theresa May, already facing severe political problems trying to form a government after losing her majority in Parliament, was heckled when she visited the site and criticized for taking too long to meet with survivors. Residents said the government response was too little, too late. May has promised to devote more resources to helping members of the community cope and has ordered a full public inquiry into the causes of the blaze. ——— WILL ANYONE FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES? It’s too early to know, but police say there will be criminal prosecutions if the evidence of wrongdoing is strong. One focus is the exterior cladding used in the renovation: Senior ministers of the British government say it appears to have been banned under U.K. building codes. The cladding is blamed by experts for spreading the fire quickly along the exterior of the building, making escape impossible for many. Any decision on criminal charges is most likely months away. ——— WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE BUILDING? It seems inevitable that the building will be demolished, because it is damaged beyond repair. Officials don’t believe the concrete structure is in imminent danger of collapse despite the extensive fire damage, but fears about falling debris have led to the partial closure of two London subway lines. (AP)

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