Police have said they fear they may not be able to identify everyone killed in the Grenfell Tower disaster, as they embark on what could be several months of retrieving and identifying the dead.
Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan police said the death toll would rise from the 17 already confirmed as dead as of Thursday afternoon.
He said six of those bodies had been found outside the tower in west London. Another 11 bodies were inside the charred remains of the building.
He would not be drawn on estimating the final death toll – but said it was not “inevitable” the final number of fatalities would bemore than 100. “I like to hope it is not going to be triple figures,” he added.
Cundy said the inquiry was a criminal investigation but could not yet say a crime had been committed.
Police said 5,000 calls had been received concerning people feared to be inside when the fire ripped through the flats.
The scale of the task faced by the emergency services was laid bare by the city’s leading fire officer, Dany Cotton, who said it could take weeks to retrieve all the bodies inside the building.
Meanwhile, families seeking information about missing loved ones carried photographs to hospitals and to support centres in hope of finding news.
Among those missing are entire families, a six-month-old baby, a young Italian couple and a five-year-old boy who lost hold of an adult’s hand as his family struggled through thick smoke to escape the blaze.
Identification will use dental records, DNA and fingerprints and – where possible – documents. Of the 17 dead, police have identities of six people so far.
Police said they had used a passport found near one body to gain a preliminary identification. A police officer who worked on identifying victims of the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami is part of the police team.
The recovery of bodies could take months, Cundy said, adding: “We can only do it when it is safe to do so.”
Police and firefighters, who have been taking advice from urban search and rescue experts, have not yet been able to thoroughly search some of the block’s higher floors.
The starting point of any criminal investigation is the recovery and identification of the victims.
Cundy refused to be drawn on whether detectives would examine
corporate manslaughter charges, stressing they were just starting and the scene was still too dangerous to thoroughly examine.
Prime minister Theresa May made a low-key visit to the remains of the Grenfell Tower on Thursday, where she was pictured talking to fire officers and staring up at the blackened remains of the block.
She left without talking to local residents. In contrast, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spent time at the scene and also at the nearby St Clement’s church, one of the centres coordinating the community response.
“We have to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “The truth has got to come out and it will.”
May later made a statement, announcing the setting up of a public inquiry into the fire. (The Guardian)