London police on Saturday raised to 58 the number of deaths either confirmed or presumed following the massive fire that engulfed a 24-storey residential Grenfell Tower public housing over 100 families in west London. Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said that number "may increase" further and that the "significant" recovery operation is likely to take weeks.
"As soon as we can, we will locate and recover loved ones," he said.
Cundy said the number of 58 is based on reports from the public. It includes 30 deaths that already have been confirmed, and reports of people who are missing and presumed to have been killed. He says it will take weeks or longer to recover and identify all the dead at the building.
“Sadly, at this time there are 58 people who we have been told were in the Grenfell Tower on the night that are missing. And therefore, sadly, I have to assume that they are dead,” he said.
He said police would consider criminal prosecutions if there is evidence of wrongdoing and that the police investigation would include scrutiny of the renovation project at the tower, which experts believe may have left the building more vulnerable to a catastrophic blaze.
Police have been struggling to come up with an authoritative list of who was in the building when the fire started, making it difficult to determine how many had died.
Cundy said there may have been other people in the tower who police are not aware of, and that could increase the death toll. He asked anyone who was in the tower and survived to contact police immediately.
The identification of the victims is proving very difficult — which experts attribute to the extreme heat of the fire. British health authorities say that 19 fire survivors are still being treated at London hospitals, and 10 of them remain in critical condition.
Police said they are using the INTERPOL Disaster Victim Identification Standards to identify the deceased. This relies on dental records, fingerprints and DNA when possible and also features like tattoos or scars.
Firefighters continue their search at the site of the fire. The blaze tore through all floors of the building and took more than 200 firefighters 24 hours to bring it under control.
Tragedy mars Queen’s birthday celebrations
The tragedy cast a pall on the Trooping the Colour festivities that mark the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. A solemn Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip held a minute of silence for the fire victims at the start of the procession Saturday.
The 91-year-old monarch said that Britain remains “resolute in the face of adversity” after the horrendous fire and recent extremist attacks in London and Manchester. The queen said it was “difficult to escape a very somber mood” on what is normally a day of celebration.
In her traditional birthday message, the 91-year-old monarch made a reference to the "succession of terrible tragedies.” She said: "Today is a traditional day of celebration. This year, however, it is very difficult to escape a very sombre national mood. Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity."
She said that during her recent visits to Manchester, the site of the suicide bombing last month which claimed 22 lives, and London the scene of a terror attack earlier this month and most recently the massive fire she has been "profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need".
"United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss," she said.
Grief, anger among residents
Grief has since given way to anger as protests were held in London yesterday by residents demanding more support for those affected by the fire.
Between 50 and 60 people stormed Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall as members of the public demanded the council, which owned the tower blocks, to give reassurances to the victims.
Dozens of demonstrators surged towards the entrance and there were scuffles outside as organisers appealed for calm.
Theresa May meets survivors at 10 Downing Street
British Prime Minister Theresa May has faced criticism for not meeting survivors in the immediate aftermath of the major fire, which has rendered hundreds homeless, unlike Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and London mayor Sadiq Khan who met with the locals on their site visits.
She sought to combat some of the criticism with a meeting with 15 fire survivors invited to her official residence at 10 Downing Street.
The meeting is unlikely to quell complaints that May has been slow to reach out to fire survivors, despite her announcement of a five million pounds emergency fund to help the displaced families. The fund will provide for clothes, food and emergency supplies as part of Grenfell Tower Residents' Discretionary Fund, which includes the aim to re- house residents within three weeks as close to where they lived before as possible, to pay for temporary housing in the meantime and to provide extra financial assistance.
May said after the meeting Saturday that there have been “huge frustrations” in the community as people tried to get information.
“Frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough,” she said.
Corbyn has written an open letter to the Prime Minister, calling for the public inquiry to ensure "all necessary lessons are learned".
The UK government has already announced a full judge-led public inquiry in an attempt to learn lessons from the tragedy and implement any necessary fire measures in other residential towers blocks.