Five London tower blocks evacuated over fire safety concerns
LONDON: Thousands of residents in a sprawling north London housing estate were forced to leave their apartments late on Friday after fire checks carried out in the wake of the deadly Grenfell Tower blaze found the buildings to be unsafe.
Amid chaotic scenes, residents clutching children, pets and small amounts of clothing and food emerged from five tower blocks to sleep on air beds in a local sports center after hearing on the news that their buildings were being evacuated.
Fire checks have been carried out on some 600 high-rise buildings across England after a fire ravaged a social tower block in west London last week, killing at least 79 people.
"I know it's difficult but Grenfell changes everything," Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, said in a statement late on Friday. "I don't believe we can take any risks with our residents' safety."
Police investigating the cause of the deadly 24-storey Grenfell Tower blaze have said the fire started in a fridge but spread rapidly due to the use of external cladding on the building, trapping residents in their beds as they slept.
The cladding has since failed all safety checks.
The fire has become a flashpoint for public anger at Prime Minister Theresa May's record in government and cuts to local authority budgets. Grenfell Tower is situated in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in Europe.
Battling to save her position after losing her majority in a June 8 election, May has promised to do everything she can to protect those residents who survived the fire and to improve the quality and safety of public housing in Britain.
The London Fire Brigade said it had found a number of fire safety issues at the Chalcots Estate in Camden, north London, and advised that residents should leave the building until they were resolved.
Residents complained of first hearing about the evacuation from the media and getting very short notice to leave from city officials going door to door. Not all residents agreed to go.
The council's leader, Gould, said it would take up to four weeks to repair the blocks that were evacuated and said that some 4,000 residents were affected.
"It was farcical communication," 21-year-old Daniel Tackaberry told Reuters outside a nearby sports center where the local council had laid out air beds for people for whom they could not find hotels.
"You don't get everyone to leave this quickly."
British police have said they are considering bringing manslaughter charges over the Grenfell fire, the most deadly blaze in London since World War Two.
Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack was asked on Friday whether the insulation and aluminium tiles used on Grenfell were acceptable for such buildings. "No they're not," she said.
"All I can say at the moment is they don't pass any of the safety tests. So that will form part of what is a manslaughter investigation."
As well as possible manslaughter, police will consider health and safety offences and breaches of other building regulations.