London fire officials said Thursday firefighters had put out a blaze that killed 12 people as it raced through a 24-story apartment building a day earlier, and that an unknown number of people remained inside.
“Tragically, now we are not expecting to find anyone else alive,” London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told Sky News. “The severity and the heat of the fire will mean that it would be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive.”
The fire moved quickly through Grenfell Tower in West London in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, trapping residents. The building contained an estimated 120 apartments and was home to as many as 600 people.
Cotton said it will take time for crews to search the building and identify anyone who is left there. She also said that while investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, it is “far too early” to speculate what started it.
WATCH: Video footage and eyewitness account from scene
Witnesses said they heard screams for help as the fire stormed through the floors, trapping residents who could be seen from windows flashing their cell phone lights in hopes of being rescued. Witnesses said some residents held small children from windows while other people jumped from the lower stories of the building.
Why did fire spread so quickly?
As the building continued to burn after noon Wednesday, questions emerged on why the fire spread through the building so quickly in a city where a centuries-old history of disastrous fires has forced one of the world’s most stringent fire codes.
Some residents evacuated from the building said they did not hear fire alarms. Some reported smelling burning plastic in the early moments of the fire, which broke out just after midnight. Questions pointed to non-existent or malfunctioning sprinklers, flammable plastic building components, and insufficient fire escapes.
Survivors also said they received orders from emergency workers to stay in their apartments, a standard fire procedure but one that angry residents said was the wrong thing to do this time.
“It was horrendous. People up at their windows, screaming and the thing went up, it felt like seconds, it was just going up and up and up,” a resident who identified himself as Mikey, told the British Broadcasting Corporation. “I’ve never seen nothing like it. It was like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie,” he said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Wednesday that “many, many people have legitimate questions that demand answers.”
PM calls emergency meeting
British Prime Minister Theresa May called an emergency meeting on dealing with the disaster. A spokesman for Number 10 Downing Street said May “is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life.”
Aside from the 12 victims who have thus far been confirmed dead, officials said at least 74 people were taken to hospitals with injuries that included smoke inhalation. Hospital officials say 20 are in intensive care.
London commuters faced snarled traffic as police cordoned off streets and cleared the surrounding area. As the fire burned ferociously Wednesday, there were concerns the building might collapse.
Officials later said structural engineers were confident that would not happen. “Structurally it is safe for our crews to be in there working,” Cotton said.