London Fire Death Toll Rises to 30; Protesters Storm Town Hall

LONDON (Reuters/AP) -
London fire death toll, Kensington
Police try to hold back protesters inside Kensington Town Hall. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Several hundred protesters stormed a town hall in London on Friday, as the death toll in the Grenfell Tower fire rose to at least 30.

The protesters barged their way through an automatic door at Kensington and Chelsea council town hall and sought to gain entry to an upper floor. Police barred their way and scuffles broke out.

The protesters chanted, “We want justice,” “Bring them out” and, “Shame on you.” A larger crowd of people remained outside.

London fire death toll, Kensington
Demonstrators march in Westminster on Friday. (Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

Some people then left the building, though others remained inside. Several dozen police, including mounted officers, stood guard. The protesters were angered when no one from the council came out to address their concerns.

Britain’s Press Association reported that some 70 people are still missing. London Police Commander Stuart Cundy said authorities have been able to remove the remains of only 12 victims from the building.

“Sadly, it is expected that the [death toll] will rise and it is not expected that any survivors will be found,” he said. Police have said that it could take months to search the building and that some victims might never be identified.

London fire death toll, Kensington
Emergency workers walk on the roof of the fire-gutted Grenfell Tower in London on Friday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

While the deadly blaze at the apartment tower in north Kensington – which housed some 600 people in 120 apartments – has prompted an outpouring of generosity, it has also unleashed fury at the authorities as the charred tower was cast as a deadly symbol of a divided society.

There have been demands for answers as to how the blaze was able to engulf the 24-story building, trapping many on the upper floors, along with complaints that not enough was being done to provide assistance for people left homeless or information about those still missing.

British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the injured in the hospital on Friday but is under mounting criticism for not meeting victims of the blaze sooner.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of Labour, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Prince William and 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth have all visited residents from the tower.

May has been criticized from within her own Conservative Party over her response, and she pledged on Thursday to hold a public inquiry into the fire at the social housing block.

May met victims privately at a central London hospital on Friday and had expressed her sorrow on TV on Thursday after meeting emergency-services personnel.

“She should have been there with the residents. You have to be prepared to receive people’s emotions, and not be so frightened about people,” former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo told the BBC.

Mayor Khan wrote to May on Friday, saying residents felt increasingly enraged and frustrated by the slow response from the authorities.

“The local community feels their grief has been made worse by the lack of information about their missing family members and friends,” wrote Khan. He also wrote that residents of other buildings with exteriors coated with the same material as Grenfell Tower were worried.

“People are terrified that the same thing could happen to them.”

London fire death toll, Kensington
Emergency services personnel inside of Grenfell Tower on Friday. Grief over the deadly blaze turned to outrage Friday amid suggestions that materials used in a recent renovation project may have contributed to the disaster. (Rick Findler/PA via AP)

May’s response has been contrasted with that of Corbyn, who hugged locals during his visit to the site on Thursday, and the royals who met residents and volunteers on Friday.

“That’s one of the most terrible things I have ever seen,” Prince William said of the tower’s blackened shell.

Some desperate residents pleaded to speak to the queen and her grandson about their plight and the fate of missing children as they left the site, with William promising he would return.

There has been growing fury on the low-rent building where residents wanted answers on why the fire was able to spread so rapidly and why complaints about safety had been ignored.

However, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took to social media to attack Labour politicians for “political game playing,” defending his record regarding the fire service as mayor of London between 2008-2016.

London police said that an investigation, led by a detective from its homicide and major crime unit, would examine whether criminal offenses had been committed, although they said there was nothing to suggest that the fire was started deliberately.

The Guardian newspaper reported Friday that contractors installed a cheaper, less-flame-resistant type of paneling in the renovation that ended in May 2016.

London Police Commander Stuart Cundy said authorities had been able to remove the remains of only 12 victims from the building.

“Sadly, it is expected that the total will rise and it is not expected that any survivors will be found,” he said. Police have said that it could take months to search the building and that some victims might never be identified.