Death Toll From Grenfell Tower Fire in London Rises to 79

The toll from the Grenfell Tower fire rose to 79 confirmed or presumed dead on Monday, as the government vowed to expedite a fast-moving inquiry into the causes of London’s worst building fire in decades. Continue reading the main story

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said that the terms of reference for the inquiry were being drafted, and that Mrs. May wanted answers quickly. The prime minister’s office has also contacted all local authorities in England asking them to identify any safety concerns in light of the tragedy, it said. It added that Mrs. May did not support a proposal by the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, to seize unoccupied properties to rehouse survivors of the fire.

The inquiry — and a related criminal investigation — are likely to examine several factors, including the absence of sprinklers and a centralized alarm system in the building (not uncommon for residential blocks as old as Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974); guidance that urged residents to "stay put” and await instructions if a fire broke out in someone else’s unit; and the role that exterior cladding, installed during a renovation completed last year, might have played in the fire’s extraordinarily rapid spread.

Many residents of the tower block are still unaccounted for, and the police have said that because of the intensity of the fire, some remains may never be identified.

"As of this morning, I’m afraid to say there are now 79 people who we believe are either dead or missing, and I sadly have to presume they are dead,” Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said on Monday.

Of those fatalities, he said, police had formally identified five victims.

Mrs. May has now pledged 5 million pounds ($6.5 million) to help the victims of the fire, in the North Kensington area of West London. And on Sunday, the British government took direct control of the emergency response, sidelining local officials whose response has been criticized as slow and disorganized.

Last week’s fire has also inspired anger over class inequality. Grenfell Tower, now a charred ruin, stands high above one of London’s wealthiest boroughs and had been home to a diverse group of largely lower-income residents, including many from countries like Sudan, Eritrea and Syria.