Five London tower blocks evacuated after safety fears
FIVE London tower blocks containing 800 homes were being immediately evacuated Friday due to fire safety concerns over their external cladding following the deadly Grenfell Tower inferno, marking one of the biggest peacetime evacuations in Britain's history.
The move comes as residents of thousands of tower blocks around Britain expressed concern about safety after commonly used building materials were blamed for rapidly spreading the blaze at Grenfell Tower.
Camden Council in north London, which announced the evacuation Friday night, was the first local government to take the dramatic step of emptying its buildings so safety upgrades could be made.
Council leader Georgia Gould said the borough made the decision after the London Fire Brigade and council experts said they couldn't guarantee the safety of residents after inspecting the five towers.
The inspectors were following up on previously unknown safety complaints from residents, she said.
"I've made the really, really difficult decision to move the people living there into temporary accommodation while we do the urgent works to guarantee safety," Gould told reporters outside the public housing complex.
"I know it's difficult, but Grenfell changes everything."
Public safety concerns have been prompted by exterior cladding known as aluminum composite panels, which are believed to have rapidly spread the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, trapping residents in their homes before firefighters could save them.
Local councils around Britain are testing similar panels on hundreds of their buildings. Fourteen apartment blocks have so far tested positive for combustible materials.
But some residents of the Camden buildings, collectively known as Chalcots Estate, expressed frustration with the lack of information they received about the evacuations.
Edward Strange, who lives on the 11th floor of the Taplow Tower, was on his way to the airport when he heard about the evacuation on the radio and returned to find council workers in neon security vests directing residents to a nearby community centre, where they were offered air beds on a badminton court.
"I just think it's a complete over-reaction," he told Sky News. "Or at least we should be given the choice. If we wanted to leave, we should have the choice to leave. But being told that we have to leave is just ridiculous. It's our home."
British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a message of sympathy to the affected residents, taking to Twitter to pledge she would work with relevant authorities to offer support.
"My thoughts are with residents being evacuated in Camden while their homes are made safe tonight," she said.
The council encouraged residents to stay with friends and family, but promised to provide temporary accommodation, if that weren't possible.
Repairs on the building are expected to be completed within three to four weeks. The council gave notice it had concerns about the cladding on its buildings Thursday, when tests showed the material was not the fire-resistant variety it had ordered.
CAUSE OF THE GRENFELL FIRE CONFIRMED
The Grenfell Tower fire in London started with a faulty fridge, with police revealing they are considering manslaughter charges.
Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack confirmed speculation the fire, which tore through the north London block last Wednesday, had started in a faulty Hotpoint freezer.
She also revealed insulation and tiles on the 24-storey tower block in Kensington had failed safety tests.
Ms McCormack said police were trying to determine why the fire spread so rapidly.
The Det. Supt. said the fridge, a Hotpoint FF175BP model, had not been subject to any product recalls in the past.
The manufacturers have been contacted.
The number of people to have died, including those classed as missing presumed dead, remains at 79, but police warn that could still change.
"All I can say at the moment is they (tiles and insulation) don't pass any safety tests," Ms McCormack said.
"What we are being told at the moment by the Building Research Establishment is that the cladding and insulation failed all safety tests.
"Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the tests started.
"The initial tests on equivalent aluminium composite tiles failed (also)."
Investigators will now try to establish whether the use of these materials was illegal.