14 June 2017, The Tablet

Archbishop of Westminster offers prayers as twelve die in West London 'towering inferno'

Local churches have offered help and opened their doors to those who had to flee, many only in their night clothes

Twelve people were confirmed dead by the afternoon of 14 June, with numbers reported to rise, after a fire engulfed the whole of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower residential block in North Kensington, West London.

The fire broke out in the early hours of the morning and quickly spread from a lower floor up to the top floor. Residents unable to escape were seen flashing their mobile phones in desperate pleas for help. Some jumped from their balconies, while one terrified woman threw down her baby, which was caught by a man on the pavement below.

Seventy-four people have been treated in hospital, according to the London Ambulance Service. Six hospitals - St Mary's, Chelsea and Westminster, Royal Free, St Thomas', Charing Cross Hospital and King's College Hospital - have received patients.

The tower contains about 120 flats and Notting Dale ward councillor, Judith Blakeman, who lives across the road from the block, said that between 400 and 600 people live in the building.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, has expressed his sorrow at the catastrophic fire and offered prayers for all those who have been affected.

"We pray for all the residents of Grenfell Tower. I pray particularly for those who have suffered injury, those who have died, and all the residents who have are left without a home today, and the entire community that has been affected," he said in a statement.

He also praised the emergency response teams, particularly the fire crews who have been working tirelessly to contain and put out the blaze.

"Once again in our city we witness the heroic efforts of our emergency services who responded so quickly. I thank them for all they are doing to help the victims of this devastating fire," he continued.

Communications office for the Westminster Diocese Marie Saba told the Tablet that no Catholic churches are inside the cordon the police set up around the building, but several local parishes had offered help and opened their doors to those who had to flee, many only in their night clothes. St Francis of Assisi parish church Notting Hill was open and Caritas Westminster said food, clothing and phone chargers were available at the church. They said the response from would-be donors had been “incredible”.

Our Lady of the Holy Souls in Kensal New Town was also offering support. At least one family from the tower was among its parishioners but were reported to be safe. St Pius X Catholic Church, St Charles Square, was also offering emergency support, as was the nearby Church of England parish of St Clement and St James. 

The Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen, which operates in the area on Wednesdays, said it was coping as best it could with the extraordinary demand.

Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, is part of the Lancaster West Estate, a sprawling inner-city social housing complex of nearly 1,000 homes. It underwent a two-year £10m refurbishment as part of a wider transformation of the estate, that was completed last year. Work included new exterior cladding and a communal heating system.

The tower is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) on behalf of the council.

Before and during the refurbishment, the local Grenfell Action Group claimed that the block constituted a fire risk and residents warned that site access for emergency vehicles was "severely restricted". Construction firm Rydon, which carried out the refurbishment, said it was "shocked to hear of the devastating fire" and added that the work "met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards".

Council leader Nick Paget-Brown said the buildings were regularly inspected, but a "thorough investigation" was needed.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was devastated by the horrific scenes, attended by more than 250 firefighters and 100 ambulance medics.

The Met Police has set up an emergency number on 0800 0961 233 for anyone concerned about friends or family.

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