MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED 10:31 a.m., June 15, 2017) The huge fire that engulfed a 27-story block of flats in central London has affected Filipinos, including a female infant.
In all, 12 people were killed and the ambulance service said 68 people were being treated in hospital, with 18 in critical condition as the fire brigade called the inferno unprecedented in its scale and speed.
More than 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought for hours to try to control the blaze, London’s deadliest for a generation. The Grenfell Tower apartment block was home to about 600 people.
Consul General Senen Mangalile of the Philippine Embassy in London said Wednesday afternoon that he was able to talk to some of the Filipinos staying at the Grenfell Tower in the north Kensington area, who were able to scamper to safety.
But he also received information that some Filipinos were rushed to hospitals after they were hurt in the incident.
“Nakausap ko…Ang iba ay talagang residente sa building at sa kabutihang palad ay nakaligtas naman. May nadala sa ospital because of smoke inhalation and burns,” Mangalile said in an interview with radio dzMM before 5 p.m., Wednesday, June 14.
[I was able to talk to them…Some were residents of the building, who luckily managed to keep themselves safe. The others were rushed to the hospital because of smoke inhalation and burns.]
ABS-CBN’s Europe bureau chief Danny Buenafe reported Wednesday afternoon that he had received information from a Filipino nurse in London that a seven-month-old Filipina baby girl was also hurt in the blaze and was treated in a hospital for “slight suffocation.”
The baby’s parents were safe, Buenafe said.
Mangalile said he could not yet determine how many Filipinos were living in the building also called “council housing,” which was built by the UK government for people with low incomes.
There are about 3,000 to 4,000 Filipinos who live in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, according to Mangalile.
“Lalampas sa three thousand to four thousand ang nakatira dito, pero sa building di natin tiyak,” he said.
In its Facebook page, the Philippine Embassy in London said it “will continue to gather information on the incident and would appreciate feedback from the ground.”
“Should any Filipino citizen need assistance as a result of this incident, the Embassy may be reached at +44 7802 790695 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Fire killed some people, hurt at least 50 more
A Reuters report on Wednesday said the fire had killed some people and injured at least 50 more, trapping some residents asleep inside the towering inferno.
Witnesses said they saw trapped residents desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as flames enveloped the building.
London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the block, which contained 130 apartments.
“In my 29 years of being a fire fighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters
“I am very sad to confirm that there have been a number of fatalities, I cannot confirm the number at this time due to the size and complexity of this building.”
London Ambulance Service said more than 50 people had been taken to hospital. A witness told Reuters she feared not all the residents had escaped the fire. Some were evacuated in their pyjamas.
“I looked through the spy hole and I could see smoke everywhere and the neighbors are all there. There’s a fireman shouting ‘get down the stairs’,” one of the block’s residents, Michael Paramasivan, told BBC radio. “It was an inferno.”
“As we went past the fourth floor it was completely thick black smoke. As we’ve gone outside I’m looking up at the block and it was just going up. It was like pyrotechnics. It was just unbelievable how quick it was burning.”
Cause of fire still unknown
The cause of the fire, which broke out just before 1 a.m. (0000 GMT), was not known, the Fire Brigade said.
Residents said repairs had been made recently to the exterior of the block.
Ash Sha, 30, who witnessed the fire and has an aunt in the building who managed to escape from the second floor, said the local council had renovated the tower.
“One year ago the council renovated the building both externally and internally,” Sha said.
“They cladded the outside and insulated the inside. The insulated material is very similar to sponge so it crumbles in your hand. This was just done to tart it up and match the nearby building.”
The local council of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns the block, said its focus was on supporting the rescue and relief operation. It said the causes of the fire would be fully investigated.
More than 20 ambulance crews were at the scene. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said a “major incident” had been declared. Police closed the A40, a major road leading out of west London, while some parts of London’s underground train network were closed as a precaution.
“There was bits of building falling off all around me, I scalded my shin on a hot piece of metal that had fallen off the building,” said Jodie Martin, who lives close to the building and sought to save people from the fire.
“I was just screaming at people: ‘Get out, get out’ and they were screaming back at me: ‘We can’t, the corridors are full of smoke’,” he told BBC Radio.
WATCH NEWS5’S VIDEO BASED ON BBC/REUTERS REPORT: