A massive fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building in London’s west side early Wednesday morning, killing 6 people at the Grenfell Tower block, although officials expect the death count to climb as investigators take stock of the scene.
London police say the death toll has reached 12, with expectation that the number will rise as investigators continue to search the scene.
Officials say 74 people are being treated in local hospitals after the fire set a 24-story apartment block ablaze overnight. At least 20 people are in critical condition, according to reports.
In CNN interviews, several residents of the building and bystanders watching the blaze described their experiences:
“I actually saw a man actually throw himself out of the window,” said Samira Awit, a resident of the neighborhood. “People were screaming for help, asking us ‘help us, help us.’”
She told CNN she and her friend Tamara Eastmond could see residents in the windows of various apartments dangling children out the windows.
“There was panic, we actually ran up underneath the building,” Eastmond said. People were jumping and dropping children from windows from the eighth floor and up, the women said, hoping that authorities would catch them.
“The were a lot of dead bodies, a lot of kids (along the base of the building),” Awil told CNN. “They were obviously covered up, but there were a lot of people that did not make it.”
Michael Paramasivian said he had been visiting a girlfriend in the building, and smelled what may have been plastic burning. Shouting outside a window caused him to check the hallway out side her apartment, where he saw smoke.
“I grabbed her little girl, put her under my dressing gown, woke up my girlfriend and ran down the stairs, “ he told CNN. “Half of the block was ablaze by the time we got down, it was just spreading like wildfire.”
Paramasivan said he did not hear a “proper fire alarm,” instead just a thin beep to alert residents.
“If I fell asleep, we’d have all been dead,” he said.
One unidentified woman said she also smelled plastic burning, then opened the door to her apartment to find other residents standing around trying to figure out what was happening. She said she woke her daughter and husband, and they left the 15th floor. Once on the ground, she turned to see the building ablaze.
“There was no alarms, no water, no nothing,” she explained. “I feel very lucky, something told me to leave.”
“It was just horrific,” said eyewitness Brenda Mercer, “watching people at their windows waving and shouting for help. And then seeing their flats just engulfed in smoke.”
Mercer said the residents were trying a number of ways to call for help, screaming, waving and shining flashlights to gain the attention of officials and onlookers.
“I felt completely helpless,” she told CNN.