When the Grenfell Tower fire started on the fourth floor of the residential building at around 12.45AM on June 14, John Beadle was there.
Beadle, who lives in an apartment on the fourth floor, had just said goodbye to a visiting friend when she suddenly returned in a panic.
“She ran back saying, ‘I can’t go home. There’s too much smoke,’” Beadle tells WHO.
“So I went out to see what was happening and saw a guy on the phone saying, ‘There’s a fire in my house—a fridge fire.’”
It marked the beginning of a nightmare.
In an appalling tragedy that sent shockwaves of grief and anger throughout the world, at least 79 people are dead or presumed dead and more than 70 injured in an inferno that raged in Grenfell Tower until dawn and beyond.
Minutes after it began, the fire spread rapidly up the building.
“The fella's fridge must have been by the window. It must have bust out the window and then it just caught and went straight up the side," says Beadle. "Everyone was shouting up at the window, “Get out! Evacuate, evacuate!’”
Local resident Amina, who did not want WHO to publish her surname, was on the street as the fire took hold.
“I was right next to the tower, just as the flames were starting to go up the side,” she says. “We saw the flames and people literally burning to death. And children putting their hands up against the windows and screaming for help. We didn’t sleep for two days.”
Beadle evacuated immediately. “I got out as quick as I could,” he says. “All the cladding was falling down everywhere, on fire. I’ve got four people dead in there who are my friends.”
The disaster has brought tensions to the boil in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where angry locals stormed Kensington Town Hall on June 17 demanding to know how such a tragedy could occur within the UK’s richest locality.
The 1974-built government-owned residential tower, which houses mainly working-class and ethnic minorities, had no fire sprinkler system and only one flight of fire stairs for the 120 apartments.
A recent refurbishment of the building included adding a reportedly cheap exterior cladding, which some experts believe may have enabled the fire to spread so rapidly from floor to floor.
“I’m missing six people: my mum, my sister, her kids, and her husband,” Londoner Sawsan Choucair, who lives nearby, tells WHO.
“I haven’t heard anything from them at all. I’m just hoping and waiting. Hoping that they are in hospital. There’s so much confusion in the hospitals that we don’t know who’s alive and who is dead. I’m just praying that I will find them.”
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