At least 58 people were likely killed in a fire which engulfed London’s Grenfell Tower on Wednesday, police said today, making the blaze the deadliest in London since World War Two.
“Sadly at this time, there are 58 people who we have been told were in Grenfell Tower on the night that are missing and therefore sadly I have to assume that they are dead,” Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.
Cundy added that the figure could change. Police had previously put the death toll at 30.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government earlier sought to quell anger over the fire, pledging to support the victims of the blaze after protesters jeered her when she visited local residents.
May was rushed away from a meeting with residents on Friday under heavy police guard as protesters shouted “Shame on you” and hundreds stormed a local town hall calling for justice.
After a botched snap election that lost her party its majority in parliament, May is facing criticism for her response to the blaze which engulfed the 24-storey apartment block of social housing on Wednesday.
Residents of the destroyed tower said May was far too slow to visit the stricken community, that the building had been unsafe and that officials have failed to give enough information and support to those who have lost relatives and their homes.
Asked repeatedly whether she had misread the public mood, May did not answer directly but said the focus was on providing support to the victims.
“What I’m now absolutely focused on is ensuring that we get that support on the ground,” May said in a BBC Newsnight interview.
“Government is making money available, we’re ensuring that we’re going to get to the bottom of what’s happened, we will ensure that people are rehoused. But we need to make sure that that actually happens.”
May on Saturday chaired a meeting on the government’s response to the fire. She also met victims of the fire in Downing Street.
Alongside both police and fire investigations into the blaze, she has promised to set up a public inquiry.
She also pledged five million pounds ($6.39 million) of support, housing guarantees and help with access to bank accounts and cash. Those who lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks, she said.
One of her closest allies, Damian Green, defended May on Saturday, adding that a team would go to the area to answer questions from residents.
“The Prime Minister is distraught about what has happened,” said Green, who was appointed May’s deputy in the wake of the general election.
“We’re all desperately sad, we’re all angry, but of course none of us as angry as those who were directly affected. I absolutely get why they’re angry,” Green said.
While the blaze has prompted an outpouring of generosity, with many people donating provisions and clothes, it has also unleashed rage at the authorities as the charred tower was cast as a deadly symbol of a deeply divided society.
Angry protesters chanting “We want justice” stormed their way into the Kensington and Chelsea town hall on Friday.
After a turbulent three months which has seen Britain scarred by three deadly Islamist militant attacks and now the tower blaze, Queen Elizabeth said the mood was deeply somber but that the British people were resolute in the face of adversity.
“It is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood,” Elizabeth said in a message on her official birthday.
“The country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.
“Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity,” Elizabeth said.
“United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favor, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”
Such a direct message from the monarch is rare and indicated the extent of the turmoil in Britain.
Opponents said May’s handling of the fire has thrust her position further into doubt by showing a failure to feel the public mood and act decisively.