Grenfell Tower: 17 confirmed dead in London high-rise apartment fire

Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the massive fire that engulfed a west London block of flats, killing at least 17 people.

"There are times when all the words we can say are not adequate. We need to support them with spare necessities", the Metro daily quoted him as saying.

"And I want to reassure the residents of Grenfell tower, all of whom are in our thoughts and prayers at the moment, I want to reassure them that the Government will make every effort to ensure that they're rehoused in London and as close as possible to home". Thirty-seven people remained in hospital, with 17 of them in critical care.

Currently, 17 people are known to have died in the blaze, six of whom have been provisionally identified, but the death toll is expected rise significantly. "I do anticipate the number of fatalities will sadly increase", said Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Mundy.

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London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said Thursday the search of Grenfell Tower will be a "very long process". "There's so much more than we could ever be able to distribute", she said. "The severity and the heat of the fire will mean it would be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive".

Earlier on Thursday, Fire Commissioner Cotton had said her crew had reached the top floor of the building and conducted visual searches. Now that the heavy black smoke has cleared, the public could only gape at the huge burned-out hulk in west London's working-class, multi-ethnic North Kensington neighbourhood. "The fire started on the upper floors". She also said sniffer dogs were being used in a bid to locate bodies.

The focus of criticism centres on the cladding fitted to the external walls of the 1970s concrete block as part of a £8.7 million (S$15.3 million) refit completed only a year ago.

Ahmed Chellat said his sister and some friends had escaped the blaze but five of his extended family were still missing: his brother-in-law Aziz el Wahabi, Wahabi's wife Fouzia and their three children aged 20, 15 and 9.

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Semira Mohammed, 37, a science technician who lives nearby, said she knew a family of five who lived on the 21 floor of the block.

"Look after the people!" another woman said.

The Prime Minister said the inquiry, which is expected to cost several million pounds, was needed to ensure "this bad tragedy is properly investigated".

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said before that many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment buildings around the British capital.

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Local residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during the refurbishment.

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