LONDON: The death toll in the residential tower fire disaster rose to 80 with the Scotland Yard today saying that a final death toll may not be known until the end of the year.
Metropolitan Police said the toll is expected to rise as their officers had succeeded in making contact with at least one person from 106 of the 129 flats in the west London tower block that went up in flames after a fire started with a faulty fridge in one of the flats on June 14. The vast majority of those believed to have died belong to the remaining 23 flats.
"We are many months from being able to provide a number which we believe accurately represents the total loss of life inside Grenfell Tower. Only after we have completed a search and recovery operation, which will take until the end of the year," said Met Police Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack. Earlier, the British police had put the death toll at 79.
"I don't want there to be any hidden victims. We want to understand the true human cost of this tragedy… What I can say is that we believe that around 80 people are either dead or sadly missing and I must presume that they are dead," she said.
According to the police update on Wednesday, some residents had tried to move up the building to escape the flames and it is thought a number of people may have ended up in one flat.
McCormack said officers were having to prepare some families for the reality that their relatives' remains may never be recovered. "There was utter devastation inside the flats," she said.
The Met Police led criminal investigation has so far identified 60 companies involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, up from 12 last week, and expect that number to grow.
Meanwhile, the number of high-rises across the UK that failed fire safety tests launched in the wake of the London tragedy went up to 120 tower blocks.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that cladding samples provided by 37 local authorities had all failed the test – marking a 100 per cent failure rate.
May, who clashed with Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the House, told MPs that she expects to name a judge to head the public inquiry into the disaster soon. "Fewer inspectors, fewer building control inspectors, fewer planning inspectors - we all pay a price," said Corbyn, who blamed the government’s cost-cutting austerity measures for the crisis.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Indian-origin housing minister, Alok Sharma, sought to reassure residents displaced following the blaze. "Everybody will be offered housing in the local area, within three weeks, so that is next Wednesday," Sharma said in an attempt to calm some of the anger. "Right now we have a lot of people who are in hotels. What we are offering people is good accommodation, which meets the needs of individual families within the seven-day period. What we will then do is work with everyone to make sure they then move into more permanent accommodation which meets their needs," he said.
On Tuesday, May had announced a "major national investigation" into the use of cladding on high-rise towers, the material believed to have caused the fire to spread rapidly all over the building at Grenfell Tower.