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Death Toll In London Apartment Building Fire Rises To 17

Grenfell Tower in west London is seen on Thursday, after a fire engulfed the 24-story building in the early hours of Wednesday.

At least 17 people have died from the fire that engulfed a 24-story apartment building in London, police say, and the figure could rise further. Fire and rescue crews worked at Grenfell Tower throughout a second night, searching for victims in a building that is still smoldering.

"Our absolute priority for all of us is identifying and locating those that are missing," Cmdr. Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police Service said in an update Thursday. "My heart goes out to those that are trying to find loved ones, please get in contact and we will support you through this."

The fire reportedly trapped many residents in the building — dozens are still missing. The blaze created a panic, with residents scrambling to get out before being overcome by smoke and flames. Several witnesses have recounted seeing desperate parents toss children from the building's windows in an effort to save them.

As many as 600 people may have been inside the building's 120 apartments when the blaze started and apparently raced from a lower floor to the top of the tower. The London Fire Brigade says its crews were able to rescue 65 people from the building.

"London's fire commissioner says it would be a miracle if anyone is still alive inside," Larry Miller reports for NPR from London. "For the hundreds who did get out safely, food clothing, personal items like toothbrushes, cash and offers of accommodation are continuing to flood in."

The tragedy has prompted a review of conditions and safety precautions at other large buildings in England, Miller reports. The tragedy also spurred Prime Minister Theresa May to promise a full investigation.

Much of the fire seemed to burn on its exterior, prompting questions about cladding that was installed during a renovation in 2015.

"High-rise buildings in France, the UAE and Australia that had similar cladding have all been hit by fires that spread," the BBC reports. The broadcaster says the Grenfell building is believed to have received cladding that has a plastic core rather than a more fireproof mineral core. The company that performed the renovation tells the BBC that it followed all fire regulations.

"At its height, pretty much the entire building appeared to be ablaze, with huge flames of several hundred feet running up the side of the tower," Alex Ritson reports from London for NPR. "Forty fire engines and around 200 firefighters went to the scene — but their equipment didn't reach much beyond the 11th floor."

"There are already disturbing reports emerging of the pipework in the building for a fire emergency being out of action," Ritson says. "Also, the fire escape plan for the building told residents to stay in their apartments behind supposedly fire safe doors. Those who escaped the blaze were the ones who both woke up and ignored that advice."

A resident who ignored that advice is Mickey Paramasivan, who got his children out of Grenfell after waking up and smelling smoke.

"Only one fire escape to get down, and apparently that caught on fire," Paramasivan told Ritson. "And the fire alarm that was going off, that wouldn't have woken no one up. It was as silent as it could be. ... Someone's got to be held responsible for this. It's ridiculous."

The cause of the fire isn't yet known, but residents say they've long known that the Grenfell building was a fire hazard. A local community organization called the Grenfell Action Group said on its website Wednesday that its warnings had been ignored for years.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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