Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno

The death toll of a deadly overnight fire that engulfed a 24-story London apartment tower Wednesday has risen to 12, local police said. The number is expected to continue to rise.

The disaster is being termed as one of the biggest fire tragedies in British history.

More than 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought for hours to try to bring the blaze, one of the biggest seen in central London in memory, under control.

Steve Apter of the London Fire Brigade said pockets of fire were still blazing at west London’s Grenfell Tower, a high-rise apartment block, more than 16 hours after first reports of fire early Wednesday.

He said crews have rescued 65 people from the building, and that firefighters have searched most of the tower and reached the top floor.

Some residents screamed for help from behind upper floor windows, some tried to throw children to safety, as flames raced through the high-rise Grenfell Tower block of apartments in the north Kensington area after taking hold just before 1 a.m.

“We could see a lot of children and parents screaming for ‘Help! Help! Help!’ and putting their hands on the window and asking to help them,” Amina Sharif, a witness, told Reuters.

“We could do nothing and we could see the stuff on the side was falling off, collapsing. We were just standing screaming and they were screaming.”

Another witness, Saimar Lleshi, saw people tying together sheets in an attempt to escape.

“I saw three people putting sheets together to climb down, but no one climbed down. I don’t know what happened to them.”

“Even when the lights went off, people were waving with white shirts to be seen,” Lleshi said.

The investigation would take time to assess what officials hinted could amount to a series of failures that, together, amounted to what London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described as “an unprecedented incident.”

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter,” a firefighter  said, as the building continued to belch smoke that could be seen for miles around, “I have never ever seen anything of this scale.”

London fire at Grenfell Tower