How do you explain something that has no rational excuse? How do you explain an incident that defies all imagination and all attempts to defend the circumstances that allowed it to occur?
The horrific fire at the Grenfeld Tower in London is just such an example of a horror that, in my opinion, could have been and should have been prevented. There’s no doubt that as the embers cool, the search for victims continues and the survivors deal with reality of what happened, the people responsible for building the structure and maintaining it will be scrambling for “reasons” for the circumstances of the conflagration.
Did you see it? It was one of those I can’t believe my eyes scenes. I did, and I could hardly believe it was real, but it was.
I was scanning the late-night Internet news and saw the report about the London fire. Sky News had its live cameras trained on the enormous burning structure.
I was mesmerized by the horror. My eyes saw it, but my brain could not reconcile what was happening with what should have been happening.
It didn’t look real – a huge tower of apartments in a major 21st-century city entirely in flames. Not this or that floor on fire, but the whole thing, looking like a red, vertical domino. It looked like something from the special effects department of some unnamed tech company. But it wasn’t.
It was real. There were people inside that building, and they couldn’t get out because there was no way for them to escape.
Some jumped. At least one desperate mother threw her child from the ninth floor – and, miraculously, a man on the ground caught the baby. Others screamed for help. Some waited in their flats. Unbelievably, they’d been told to stay in their flats and wait for rescue. It never came.
Uncounted numbers died in the horror of the roaring flames.
There were 120 flats, one and two bedrooms each, in the 24-story building. But there is no accurate list of the people who actually lived there nor who else might have been there that night. Hundreds of the estimated 600 residents of the building are missing. After a complete search of the ruins is completed, the final fatality list be compiled.
As I write this, 58 are known dead, but that is truly preliminary. Many are hospitalized with serious injuries.
Most of the tenants were from the Middle East, poor people who lived in a structure that had safety deficiencies that were ignored and disregarded by the building management. In the aftermath of the disaster, surviving tenants tell of the many complaints they had registered with management over the years about safety and maintenance issues that were repeatedly sloughed off and ignored.
Grenfell Tower is a public housing project, like many in the city. It’s owned by a local government council and managed by a nonprofit. The building was complete refurbished in 2015 at a cost of 10-million pounds. It included installation of a “cladding” around the entire building. It’s described as polyester-powder coated aluminum, which was installed on the entire building exterior. It looks great but, in fact, is highly flammable. The installation left an air space between it and the building face, which enabled the flames to race up and around the entire structure.
After the fact, the British media have been reporting on the number of other fires from such cladding in structures across the world.
Apparently, such instances are not coincidences. Despite those fires, the use of such building materials continues. There are reports of hundreds of such buildings in the U.K.
The tower was completely burned out, and huge pieces of the cladding fell off in flames, yet the structure did not collapse.
We are told that an exploding refrigerator (exploding refrigerator?) was the cause of the fire.
In my entire life and career as a news reporter who has covered many fires, I have never heard of a refrigerator-freezer exploding into flames. Yet, now there are reports it has happened. Why haven’t the media ever reported it?
We are told the fire started on the second floor, or the fourth floor or the 22nd floor.
Who you gonna believe?!
It looked like a modern structure – similar to others in the area, especially with that lovely, aluminum cladding. Yet, there were those nagging safety issues that residents complained about but which were ignored.
In the entire building, there was only one staircase.
The one emergency exit was virtually blocked with trash, an old heater and a mattress.
There were no sprinklers in the building.
There was no alarm system in the building.
There was no emergency lighting in the building.
In other words, it was a slick-looking firetrap filled with people waiting, without knowing it, for death.
Politicians visit the site. The queen and the duke of Cambridge also did. But the real issue is finding the truth of what happened and why, and holding those at fault responsible. London police have begun an investigation, especially looking at whether an effort to increase energy-saving efficiency in the building exacerbated the destruction. Anger is growing, and there is fear of rioting, as people are demanding justice.
The fire was so hot that it makes identification of victims difficult.
Fire commissioner Danny Cotton told AP, “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale.”
But the humanity is the most moving.
One of the volunteers who was at the scene spoke of not being able to help.
“The screaming from the children was just terrifying. But it was worse when the screaming stopped. The silence …”
She could not go on.
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