LONDON: Residents of 800 London flats were hurriedly evacuated Saturday due to fire safety fears over their tower blocks’ external cladding, after urgent testing prompted by the deadly Grenfell Tower inferno.
The cladding on the five Chalcots Estate towers is similar to that used on Grenfell, widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.
The dramatic decision follows urgent testing of the towers’ exteriors, which were installed by the same contractor as the Grenfell Tower. As a result, Chalcots residents were being sent to hotels across the city.
Just hours earlier, police said that manslaughter charges could be brought over the Grenfell inferno, after finding that the fire started with a faulty fridge and the building’s cladding had failed safety tests.
“Grenfell changes everything and I don’t believe we can take any risks,” said Georgia Gould, leader of the Camden Council local authority, told reporters, as residents left the five Chalcots Estate towers.
“We could not be sure that people could be safe.
“We had to do this. We have to act on fire service advice.”
“We know it’s a scary time but we will make sure that they stay safe,” said Gould. “The cost we can deal with later.”
The council has been booking hotels across London and the works are expected to take up to four weeks.
Michelle Urquhart, who has been living in the Chalcots Estate’s Bray tower, said the situation was “frightening”.
“I don’t know where we are going to go.
“One man in a suit said to me ‘you can’t stay here tonight’.
“We have been living in these flats for the last 10 years with this cladding.”
Chalcots resident Shirley Philips told Sky News television she had been given no notice before being told she must leave her home.
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” asking why the decision had been left so late in the day.
“Where do they think we’re all going?”
In an update early Saturday, Camden Council said they had secured “hundreds of hotel beds for Chalcots’ residents. We’re encouraging all residents to stay with friends and family if they can, otherwise we’ll provide accommodation.”
All ‘complete bodies’ removed
In an update on the Grenfell investigation, Fiona McCormack from the London police said: “We are looking at every criminal offence from manslaughter onwards.”
Referring to the tiles and insulation on the outside of the building, she said: “All I can say at the moment is they don’t pass any safety tests.”
McCormack said police were investigating companies involved in the building and refurbishment of the tower, and possible “health and safety and fire safety offences”.
The cladding was installed on the 24-storey council-owned Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974, as part of a refurbishment completed last year.
It has prompted a wider review of social housing which has identified at least 600 towers in England with similar cladding.
McCormack said all “complete bodies” had been removed from the burnt-out tower and there was “a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat”.
She said officers had been through all levels of the tower and would be installing an external elevator to facilitate completing the forensic search, which could take until the end of the year.
Charity song hits top spot
She also repeated calls for any members of the public with information about people who may have been in the tower at the time of the blaze to contact the police.
Police fear the toll may be higher because some residents may have been living in the tower illegally.
Prime Minister Theresa May stressed on Thursday that all Grenfell victims, regardless of their immigration status, would be able to access whatever help they need.
May said her thoughts were with the evacuated Chalcots residents. “We will work with and support the emergency services and relevant authorities to safeguard the public,” she said.
Six men and three women killed in the Grenfell inferno have been formally identified.
They are Mohammad Alhajali, 23; Khadija Saye, 24; Abufars Ibrahim, 39; Khadija Khalloufi, 52; and Anthony Disson, 65, while the identities of three men and one woman have not been made public at the request of their families.
Nine patients remain in hospital, of which three are in a critical condition.
Meanwhile the government ordered immediate checks on the Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer model blamed for the blaze.
A charity single released to raise money for survivors of the fire reached the top spot in the British charts on Friday after selling more than 170,000 copies.
The track is a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by 50 artists including Stormzy, Emeli Sande, Robbie Williams and Paloma Faith.