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Continuing Breaking Coverage of Fire in London. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired June 14, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:01] ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: I'm Robyn Curnow. And you've certainly been watching CNN's continuing coverage of that shooting outside Washington. We're tracking development on that story as well as another one, that horrific fire in London, a fast-moving infernal that swept through an apartment tower in west London. The London fire chief calls the blaze unprecedented in her nearly three decades of service. We'll have a lot more on that soon.
In the meantime, a few hours ago, I want to update you on what we know about that shooting. A top U.S. lawmaker and others were shot just outside Washington. A gunmen opened fire at the baseball practice for the Republican congressional team. An FBI spokesperson says it's too early to say if the lawmakers were deliberately targeted.
Now, Steve Scalise, the third ranking Republican in the U.S. House was shot in the hip. An aid and Capitol Hill police officers were also shot, as you've been hearing on Wolf's show. Witnesses describe the man as a white male with a semi-automatic weapon, and CNN has learned he is in custody and in hospital. Here's what authorities had to say about the attack just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM SLATER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: OK. I will. If Is said that, I misspoke. It's too early in the investigation to say one way or the other.
REPORTER: Can you confirm his appearance so there's some reports that he had white hair, others that he had dark hair, could you just tell us what he looks like?
SLATER: No, I'm not aware of his appearance looks like.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: OK. So, meantime in London, let's get you up to date on these images. This devastation. The inferno killed at least six people. They are confirmed dead. Authorities, though, are warning that that number is likely to rise. Dozens are in hospital. London's mayor, we know, has offered his condolences and he's also praised the emergency services response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SADIQ KHAN, LONDON MAYOR: The thoughts and prayers of the entire country are with the family and friends of those in the building and affected by this tragic and horrific fire. Also the tributes to the amazing emergency services from the fire service we have more than 250 firefighters, many whom have been here from the beginning to the commissioner. There will be many more working will enjoy the course of the day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: London's mayor there.
Well, let's go to the scene. Isa Soares joins me now live. And we heard there the extent of the emergency service's response, but it's the human tragedy that
continues to playout, Isa, and we really still don't know the scale of this devastation.
ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATOINAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And the tales we've been hearing have been horrifying as well as harrowing, Robyn, and worth pointing out to you that only firefighters, only in the last few hours actually stopped the smoking. I saw about five firefighters go past us in the last half hour, and then looked absolutely exhausted. Worth pointing out the heat is extremely hot day.
But one person who has been monitoring this for us all throughout the night, early hours of this morning, is Oren Liebermann.
Oren, bring us up to date with where we are, this tragic, tragic incident here.
SOARES: So, the latest update we got was actually when we heard from the mayor there about three hours ago. Sadiq Khan spoke with the fire commissioner and spoke with the commander of the ambulance services. And we didn't get much here, but we got an insight into how difficult of a process this is and how long of a process this is.
Talk of a cause, talk of wrong doing or perhaps the building not being up to standard, they put those off, that's not the focus of this right now. The focus is still putting this out and finding out who is missing.
At this point, we know six people have died. Everyone, all of the authorities we have spoken with, said that number is certain to rise. And the mayor made it clear that at that point, and this is some three hours ago, this had been a search and rescue operation. They were still hoping to find people who were alive. He said it will soon shift to a search and recovery operation, an indication that authorities don't expect to find anybody else alive in this building.
SOARES: Explain to us why you think they're saying the number is expected to rise? How quickly that was going the fire was spreading when you got here?
LIEBERMANN: So, I arrived about 3:30, so about an hour and a half after this fire started. And by that point, by the time I arrived, the entire building was engulfed from the very bottom of the very top, and almost all the way around the entire building. There were flames pouring out of every window. And where you could see in, where there weren't flames coming out, you could see into gutted apartments and fire. And there was a thick black pillar of smoke just rising form the building. That has dissipated, but it went all morning, and it makes everything complicated.
The fire commissioner has said, look, the building is structural sound, which means firefighters can go in and they have been going in. but everything here is difficult. First, they have to go up the stairs. It's a critically difficult process to go through a burned
out building. They are still going in, at least according to the last update we've gotten, and they are still expecting to find people. And that's why they expect the number of people who have died in this fire to go up.
We know people have evacuated. We spoke with eyewitnessses who saw the evacuations as well as some people who even ran in to help family members or friends out, but the expectation was from early on that not everyone got out.
The question is, and we don't have a definitive number on this yet, were how many people were inside the building. We know about 125 families lived here, that puts it at a few hundred may, maybe even more. We don't know how many were here. We don't know how many got out. And it seems authorities are still trying to get a grasp on that exact number right now.
SOARES: And, of course, as we speak, you can see the smoke billowing over my right shoulder. It's been billowing for hours and hours although the fire has kind of almost been put out, I think it's fair to say, and worth bearing in mind that when this was all unfolding, it was 1:00 in the morning here, so people have heard tales of people been - people knocking on each other's doors, people running out in their pajamas.
So, you imagine that horrifying ordeal, and Fred Pleitgen is I think these are similar stories that you've been hearing. Tell us a bit more, if you can.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely. You know, what's an absolutely tragic event, of course, obviously for the people who are inside that building, but also for the folks around here. This is really a tragedy, Isa, that's engulfing this entire community. And I'm also standing, as you can see behind me, near where that building is, but also near one of the community centers where people have been donating a lot of aid, simply because this community is so close-knit.
And one of the things that folks that we've been speaking to, who actually manage to get out of the building have said, the one hand people have said, the one hand the blaze was obviously terrible for them, trying to get out of the building. But then it was also that feeling of helplessness while people were still inside that building, screaming, asking for help, trying to get out. And I spoke to one eyewitness who would only give his first name, Reuben (ph), he videotaped the whole thing and he witnessed the whole thing. Let's listen in to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REUBEN, WITNESSED LONDON APARTMENT TOWER FIRE: When I first came down, I was alerted because there was a fire. the noise and people screaming. So, I came down. I got dressed. I came down. But I came down, I see it was a blaze. And it was a shock. It was a big, big -- you know, I had to take a big gasp. And when I went over there, I've seen the police were there and the services was there. So, I heard people screaming, you know, save my child, things I don't want to repeat, but they were screaming in stress.
PLEITGEN: People were trapped in the building?
REUBEN: They were trapped in the building. They were under duress. They were saying help me. I stepped back, and I started filming. You're seeing the film, which I've showed you. I started filming, and I could hear people screaming. And I have got friends in that block say it's personal to me.
It was like something out of a movie. It was so surreal. It wasn't - you know, I just wanted to do something. I've got nine friends in there, and it's a tight community. And it's just terrible. I feel terrible about it.
But within 15 minutes it just ignited. It was a fire, and it was - you know, a raging fire, but not that substantial, and within 15 minutes, it just shot out the sides, which is - I think it's due to the (inaudible), the plastic tiles on the side, or whatever it is, were flammable. And then it was like a tower inferno.
PLEITGEN: So, you're saying that it was - at the beginning it seemed fairly subdued, a big fire, but not something that was great, and then all of a sudden it was on the outside of the building.
RUEBEN: Outside, yeah. On the outside, yeah. And then it obviously got fed, the smashed windows, it got fed. It was like a furnace. It became life, you know, and all I could do is worry. People around me are screaming. Their moms are in there, their cousins are in there. And a friend of my neighbor's, he was on the fourth floor, and he came there, and he was telling me what was happening. And we just wanted to run around and do nothing, but we could not do nothing. We just could not do nothing.
It's just tragic. It's just a tragic situation.
PLEITGEN: How fast did - or long did it take before the police showed up, the fire engines showed up? That seems to have gone pretty quickly.
REUBEN: Yeah. I mean, they kept on showing up all the time, because at 1:00 some was there, and then they kept on turning up special units, you know, higher ladders, breathing operations, different special units of firemen. The police were there, and then I was there when they cordoned off the area, and the ambulances turned up after that, you know,
PLEITGEN: So, you say you know several people who live in that building. Did they have concerns about the safety of the building?
CURNOW: You're watching CNN. And we're just going to interrupt that interview to go straight to our colleagues at CNN USA. Wolf Blitzer has some updated information on the shooter. Let's listen in.
(SIMULCAST WITH CNN USA)
[11:12:31] CURNOW: Listening there to Brianna Keiler speaking on the updates coming from Washington on the shooter. We know that he was 66 years old. And they are still trying to figure out what the motive is.
We will go back to our colleagues in Washington if there's any more details, any more information. For now, though, I want to check back with our colleagues in London. Isa Soares and Oren Liebermann are standing there at the scene in front of that devastating tower block fire. And we were just listening earlier to Fred Pleitgen interviewing an eyewitness who described it essentially as a towering inferno.
SOARES: Absolutely. it's been a horrifying ordeal for those families who were inside when it all happened. At 10 minutes or so to 1:00 in the morning. We know that six people are dead. We know 74 people have been taken to the hospital. But we're also hearing that the majority of people are expected, that number of dead, unfortunately, expected to rise.
Oren, you and I were talking about some of the stories that you heard throughout the (inaudible) the horrifying and the harrowing ordeals. Tell us a bit more from
those you've spoken to. What do they see, what do they hear, because one person who I spoke to said one thing in their mind was basically hearing screeches and screaming of children. That's the only thing they could hear.
LIEBERMANN: And we've heard that from multiple people now. And I think because it was so horrifying that it stuck in everybody's mind.
One of the first people we spoke with here actually says he saw the fire very early on from some five miles away. And that's how visible it was in the early morning sky. And he raced here knowing this could be a build where his cousins live. And it was. He said his cousins live on the 17th or 18th floor. That was in the early morning chaos, before the scene was set up before it was cordoned off like it is now. And he ran inside to help.
He saw, and he was able to get in and help his cousins get out. He said he pulled his nephew out and carried him out. His nephew was having trouble breathing. But they got out.
And yet it was evident in talking to him hours later at this point that he was still horrified and scared for all of the other people.
We spoke to another neighbor who lived on this street here who had a friend on the 7th floor. And she was able to talk to her right after the fire started on the phone. Three hours later had she lost contact with her and feared the worst. And she said she heard from
her friend who had said it's getting hot in here.
SOARES: My goodness. And is it true - I mean, people were apparently told not to leave their flats. Is that officially confirmed?
LIEBERMANN: We've heard that from multiple people including we spoke with earlier today the former leader of the residence association here who left some six months ago after living here for two-and-a-half years because of his own safety concerns. And he says that was one of them, but not the only one. And he said he would raise these repeatedly to management. And he said he would raise these repeatedly to management. He would raise these beyond management when could, and it was simply ignored.
He said now, look, there's an inevitable investigation coming. He feels now that it was too late, and that investigation will shed some light on some of the
And it's not just the evacuation plans, there will be concerns about many people here not hearing a fire alarm, a sprinkler system, the evacuation plan itself, accessibility to the stairs, all of these are concerns for residents today they raised them over and over again.
Now, it is worth pointing out at this point we did earlier today get a statement from the management company, and this is from Robert Black, the chief executive: "the fire at Grenfell Towers devastating and the reports of injury and losses of life absolutely heartbreaking. Along with my colleagues, I've been supporting residents since the early hours, working with emergency services in the community. Currently we're focusing on helping those residents, and London fire brigade is investigating the safety of the tower structure, but we will issue a further statement in due course."
We have no yet gotten the followup statement.
And we'll point out one more thing quickly, what the first question we got to ask Mayor Sadiq Khan was what about the safety concerns, what about the complaints? And he said, and I'll use his words, he said there are genuine concerns and he will demand answers. He's heard of these complaints, it seemed. He acknowledged that. But he also said now is simply not the time. Let's focus on finding out how many people may still be inside that building and how many people still need help.
SOARES: I went past one family who - one man who was screaming because he couldn't find his aunty. So, clearly many people still unaccounted for. As you can see just between us here, between both of your live shots, not very far, half a mile or so, the smoke that tower, just smoldering smoke still billowing from there, but like Oren was saying, you know, many, many questions need to be answered in terms of what happened here.
But there's also a focus now on those families, many who still don't have a house, don't have a home. They've lost everything, they're left in their pajamas. And what I've seen this morning people with trollies of food and water, a real blitz spirit, if I can call it that.
Erin McLaughlin, paint us a picture of what you see of the London spirit in action today.
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Isa. Well, I'm here outside the Rugby Portebello (ph). This is one of many centers set up for the victims of that horrific fire. Victims are arriving here. They're receiving food, water, basic supplies, though what victims I've been speaking to tell me, they need most at this point, information, and that's in short supply. Many here do not know if their friends, loved ones are alive or dead.
That includes AhmAd Shalat. He was here seeking information. He described the horror that he saw unfold outside that tower building. He said his sister-in-law was inside the building at the time of the fire. He called her and she told him that she was being instructed to move with her children to another room, that's the last he heard from her. Now he says he doesn't know if she's alive or dead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AHMAD SALAT, EYEWITNESS: I saw it. It was incredible. This morning, I heard sirens, fire, engine, police sirens, ambulance sirens. I looked out and thought, well - when I went to my bedroom, I look through my bedroom window, I saw Granfell Tower on fire. I rushed down because we got two members of my family living there, my sister- in-law and her family, and my brother-in-law and his family.
I wake up my daughter to phone her aunty and her uncle, and then by the time we got out, which is about less than five minutes, half of the building was on fire. And then when we rushed down before the police and everybody got near us, we could see people waving and people screaming from the windows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: Talking to people here, you definitely get a sense that they're in shock, but there's also anger. Plenty of questions as to why the building wasn't evacuated sooner, why the building went up in flames so quickly, and how something like this could happen in London - Isa.
SOARES: Erin, what kind of support are those you've been speaking to, what are they getting? How are they being helped out?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let me just let the camera pan over behind me. I don't know if you can see. You can see there's a police presence here. The bags of items, toiletries, toilet paper, water, clothing being dropped off by people in the local community, not just the local community, but really, across London, a tremendous outpouring of support show of unity. People of all faiths gathering here to show their support for the victims are also organizations. I
was speaking to a coordinator from a local Muslim organization. She was here on hand trying to get information for the victims, trying to connect them with the hospitals to figure out if their loved ones are wounded or simply still missing.
So, those are the kind of efforts being coordinated here. I'd have to say that what's happening here is a local effort with the help of the Red Cross. So far, local communities coming together in a show of support. They have yet to hear, really, many of the people I've been speaking to here, anyway, from authorities in terms of details as to the official investigation identification of the missing.
[11:20:31] SOARES: Erin McLaughlin there for us. Thanks very much, Erin, we'll return to you shortly. I want to bring in Oren Liebermann who smoke billowing from the 24 story tower block. And just for those of you who know London, who traveled through London, we are in West London, very close to Portobello Market. This is a very diverse area of London.
We were talking earlier, and Fred, I think, touched on that, on the concerns, because this building, although it's from the1970s, a lot of those tower blocks here are, this was refurbished recently, was it not?
LIEBERMANN: Very recently, a multimillion dollar refurbishing process. And there were some concern about that as well, that it wasn't up to standard. It was a quality refurbishment that only contributed, the residents were worried, to a level of danger in the building, a level of risk that they found unacceptable.
SOARES: What were they worried about? What was it about the building that worried them?
LIEBERMANN: Part of it was quality, part of it was age. One of the thing we've heard repeatedly is that the fire spread on the outside of a building. We know that was part of the process of refurbishing the building. And they worried that that, whatever was
refurbished there, the cladding, may have in some way contributed to the spread of the fire on the outside before it got into the inside, so that's all part of the investigation.
SOARES: So, perhaps that went quicker the fire spread quicker, because of the cladding? That's one of the reporting we've been hearing?
LIEBERMANN: It's been the speculation from some who live here, as well as some of the neighbors here who have friends inside the building. Again, nothing definitive yet, simply because that will be discussion of the cause, and that hasn't started yet. The fire commissioner has repeated pointed out we don't have this answer yet, nor do we intend to. She said firefighters may be in this building for another 24 hours, which gives you an idea of just what they're dealing with. And they've been here now for going on 14, 15 hours, and it will still be a long day ahead.
SOARES: What have you been hearing from - we heard from this community action group, because it seems they warned several years ago, even last year, of perhaps a fire happening. And they said only a catastrophic event would actually bring an end to this dangerous living conditions. Do they say any more as to what they were worried about, the cladding, or was it the fact that perhaps they didn't hear the fire alarm wasn't working. What exactly lead to these concerns?
LIEBERMANN: I think it was all of that wrapped into one. I haven't seen them put out an updated statement today, but in talking to the former leader of the Residents Association, he echoed these concerns. He said, look, these are not new. We didn't just make these up. They've been around. And he had tried to appeal to the building's management. He had tried to appeal, he says, beyond the building's management to local officials. And they just felt they were getting nowhere.
So, I said you seem horrified but not surprised. And he said absolutely. We knew something like this was possible. We hoped it would never happen. But without question, this morning, it did happen. And now they believe the investigation, the inevitable investigation into what went wrong here will justify their concerns about what it is they're worried about.
SOARES: As we've been hearing from Erin, people are in the split, kind of London spirit doing what they can with water and food and clothes and toys for children, because of course those families leaving at 1:00 in the morning, they had absolutely nothing on them other than the clothes they were wearing.
But there's also anger, is there not?
LIEBERMANN: Inevitably. There's a tremendous amount of anger if they feel like they were simply ignored. We've spoken with people with friends here. And it
seems many of the neighbors here know people who were tried that building and tried to get them
out. I spoke a few minutes ago about a woman who had a friend on the 7th floor, her name is Ness Davis. I'd like to go to her interview now and listen to what she had to say.
SOARES: Let's have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NESS DAVIS, LOCAL RESIDENT: Three hours ago we were able to contact Rose, but now we're trying, and she's not answering. Hopefully she's still alive inside, but who would survive that? The whole building was on fire.
My daughter woke me up at 3:00 in the morning. And she said, mom, there's a building on fire outside our house. And when I look at it, we watch it from 3:00 in the morning. And I said to my daughter, why is nothing happening? Like, there's no help. And that kind of frustration. And I went down the stairs, and talked to my neighbors, and she said yes, why we can't hear much of the ambulance, you know, fire brigade arriving, there's nothing like that.
So, from the 3:00 in the morning, we are in front of our house watching the building burning. And I said, like, neighbors passing by, and we're asking them like is there any help that we can we do - offer? Said yep, maybe later on, because no one is allowed to go in there. No one is allowed to go in there.
So, that frustration, I just had my operation yesterday. I'm fighting for my life. I was diagnosed with triple negative cancer last year, and I just had my operation yesterday, and this is what I woke up with, and I said, OK , if I die, I can understand it. I die because of cancer. But people is stuck there. No help. Maybe their self, but can't get in there. But I just -- the frustration of, like, why they are there, why they are dying that way? And all I can do is help. I'm going to ask all the neighbors, the locals just help even with blankets, food.
After this I'm going to go home and start looking. And I'm going to bring food here. That's all I can help.
[11:26:00] LIEBERMANN: Your friend, Rose, what floor was she on? And what did she say to you when you talked to her three hours ago.
DAVIS: Well, she said it's hot. It's hot. It's hot. That's all we can hear is her saying it's hot. And then after that, trying to contact her and she not answering the phone. She's on seventh floor. She lives on the seventh floor.
LIEBERMANN: Hours later, it is still scary to be out here, it is still worrying.
DAVIS: It's worrying, because it's not just Rose, it's the people that I hope not who live there, because there's a grandma of the same school where my son goes to. She was just comforting me last Monday, and she lives in that building. And I just hope that I will
see her when the children goes back to school. I just hope she's not stuck there and fighting for her
life right now. I just hope that she will survive that.
I can't speak anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: And as we just heard there, we're getting updates, a ver yfast moving story, we're hearing from a spokesperson from the Met Police who is expected to give us a statement shortly. She's just here to tell us that will happen very, very shortly. So, we'll be here with you.
But Oren and I we have been talking not only about the conditions, or the lack thereof, as some concerns that some of the people inside had, but also of the people who were trying to escape this horrifying ordeal for many.
Do we - have we heard, or have you heard of any of any families? Where are they being taken to, those who have not been taken to hospital, where are they going?
LIEBERMANN: So, of course it's worth pointing out that we know some 74 people have been taken to some six hospitals. At the latest count it was 20 in critical care at those hospitals. Everyone else is being taken to community centers and shelters where they have, where they can try to get their footing under them in some way, you just have to look at this building
for a second to realize that some people are now homeless.
Everything inside that building, or at least a lot of it, is now gutted.
SOARES: This - and Fred Pleitgen is with us, he has a similar view of what we're seeing. And really a smoldering building, an inferno of sorts, if we can call it that, and a horrifying ordeal for the more than 120 or so families who were inside.
Fred, you you were talking earlier about some of the concerns regarding the refurbishment of the building. What are you hearing from those families about that?
PLEITGEN: Well, I think there's a lot of -- there were a lot of concerns, Isa, before all of this happened. And I think a lot of that is turning to a lot of questions, that many people who live inside that building did have before, and certainly even more now, have afterwards. As we've already noted, there is that action group here that was inside that building running a blog that had said that there were these concerns in the first place, and they said that these concerns were in place before the refurbishment took place.
They also had concerned during the refurbishment, but especially also after the refurbishment took place. And a lot of that centered around the cladding that was on the outside of the building. And we heard from Reuben before who I spoke to who said that he felt that the building was really getting on fire very quickly from the outside, that the flames were eating their way up from the outside, and that then a lot of the flames managed to get into the building through some open windows, so certainly those plastic plates that were on the outside of the building, that certainly does appear to be a concern that was there before.
But one of the interesting things that we've seen is that this action group whose blog we've been monitoring they have been talking about concerns for the fire safety here of this property for a very, very long time, since at least 2014. And the interesting thing is also, I think that there's two things, Isa, where there were concerns about this.
On the one hand, it was the building itself where people said that they wanted answers to certain questions, but then it was also the response that people were supposed to have in case there was a fire where the folks who run the building were saying, look, you
need to say inside your apartment if a fire breaks out. And that certainly is something that
appears, as though, could have made the situation in this case worse.
One of the things they said is because there were new, what they called, fire resistant doors in the all the apartments, that they believed that people had at least 30 minutes' time, which would give fire brigades enough time to get here to the scene to combat any sort of blaze. But obviously this fire has been already smoldering for hours, and the fire brigade is still having trouble putting out the last of the flames.
It certainly was an uncontrolled blaze for a very, very long time. So, it was both the advice given to people what would happen if there is a fire as well as the building itself that there were big concerns beforehand and certainly are raising a lot of questions now.
We've heard from Sadiq Khan, for instance, who said, look, people here who were affected by this, they have some very legitimate question. And it's going to
be up to a thorough investigation to provide answers to those people, certainly they owe it to the people
after this terrible disaster happened, Isa.
[11:30:54] SOARES: Yeah. many people asking many questions, of course, and rightly so Given what happened.
And, Fred, give us a sense of how quickly did the fire brigade get here. And do we know how far up that story, the 24 story building, how far up they went to help people?
PLEITGEN: Yeah. Those are two very important questions. So, one of the things I have to say is that everybody here has been saying that the fire brigade, that
their response was absolutely perfect. They came here at about six minutes' time and certainly were very courageous also when dealing with that blaze. They immediately went into the building, even though obviously there was that big fire raging on.
Now, one of the issues that, of course, had, Isa was that the building is very, very tall. It's 24 stories. And so their ladders simply don't reach up that far.
So what they tried to do they tried to extend them all the way up then spray water into the building while at the same time firefighters went into the building.
And that point in time, Isa, it really wasn't clear whether that building was in danger of collapsing, things that we've seen in the past where the structure would get weak because of the immense heat that a fire like this creates and that a building could get weak and then collapse.
Still, the firefighters went inside. Since then, there have been experts on the scene who have said, look, the building at this point in time is not in danger of collapsing and therefore the firefighters can operation inside. But it took about six minutes
apparently for the first fire engines to arrive on the scene and then, of course, there was that very large response where the eyewitnesses here have been telling us, and the authorities here have been telling us, that many, many fire engines were then called to the scene, obviously from many other boroughs here as well. And that, of course, in conjunction with emergency services that also were on the scene to provide medical attention for people with issues with smoke inhalation, with burns, all the things that are associated with a fire like this.
So, by all accounts, the response from the authorities, from the emergency management services, seems to have been very, very efficient and very, very good. But in certain cases it seems as though they simply didn't have a chance to save people because so many
people were trapped inside that building and couldn't get out.
And we've heard those horrible stories, Isa, of people trying to tie bed sheets together to try to get out, people throwing their babies out for folks to catch them down below. Unclear where the parents of those babies, what happened to them. So, some certainly tragic scene, but we certainly can tell that the emergency services, the firefighters, did their utmost to try and prevent a loss of life in this.
SOARES: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. And as I made my way here, I've been here for several hours now, we went past several fire brigades as they made their way down the road. They got applause from the local community, so people here clearly, clearly praising them and their efforts and their hard work they've been doing. And I saw six of them in the last hour or go past our live location here, and they looked absolutely exhausted.
Worth pointing out that it's very, very hot here. So, one can only imagine how hot it is inside.
Fred Pleitgen there, thank you very much.
I'm joined now by Bishop Graham Tomlin from the community here in West London. Bishop, thank you very much for joining us. Paint us a picture from those you've spoken to, what you're hearing. How is everyone doing?
BISHOP GRAHAM TOMLIN, CHURCH OF ENGLAND: Well, there's all kind of different people involved here. I've been spending quite a lot of the day with the police and the ambulance services and the fire services as well, spending a lot of time talking to the fire services guys who have coming in and out of the building, obviously fairly distressed at some of the things that they've seen in there.
SOARES: You're offering support to them as well?
TOMLIN: Yeah, exactly, just spending a lot of time just listening to them and giving them some time to talk. I think for a lot of them, it's very - it's their job. It's what they do. And they're doing it really, really well. But often it's in a few days' time, but
some of the things that they've seen come back to stay with them and that's where they often need the help. We're trying to offer some help at the time.
It's a lot of the people across in the area. I mean, I've been with the parish church locally here, which is open, has been open since... SOARES: I went past it, actually (inaudible).
TOMLIN: It's been open since 3:00 this morning. And it's at the moment full of people and clothing and bedding and food that's been donated by the local community, and so the local church has been doing what local churches do, which is open its doors to offer some support and love and care as much as they can. But actually the whole community has come around to bring whatever help it can to try and provide -- one of the issues now is trying to work out with people in the local area, especially in the houses around who have been evacuated, they can't go back to their homes tonight. Where are they going to stay?
SOARES: What are you hearing? Where are they going? How is it - what kind of help are they getting?
TOMLIN: Well, there are quite a few community centers and churches setting themselves up as dormitories. I've been in touch with a number of our churches
locally who have set themselves up with - one of my churches locally has got 30, 40 beds available in it. There are other community centers that are setting themselves up for the night.
So, it's people who are in the local area who can't go back to their homes have got somewhere to say tonight even if they can't stay with relatives. So, it's happening in a relatively (inaudible) way, but in a way that is quite and well organized. So, that there are hopefully are places for people to sleep tonight.
SOARES: During the horrific terror attacks in London, many Londoners were opening their doors and offering their homes to people who had nowhere to stay. I can only assume that people are doing the same. In fact, one of my friends said can I offer my
house, I'm off on holiday. Can that be done? And this is the true London spirit, isn't it?
TOMLIN: Yes, it is. And it's been remarkable the whole day the sense in which the community around around here is -- it's a community that's very varied here with many different ethnicities and religions and a great diverse community.
But actually something like this draws out the kind of underlying god- given humanity in all of these people and somehow brings them together. And so actually I was talking to someone else just by the church who said I have my got house down the road, I've got a spare bed. What can I do? And I said, well, look come back to the church later on tonight. If there are people there who just need somewhere to stay and is on the hard floor of the church who would rather a comfortable bed, it might well be that they could come stay with you for the night.
SOARES: From those families you've spoken to who went through this horrifying ordeal, what did they tell you? I mean just going to throw out, a president - U.S. President Donald Trump is about to speak. Let's listen. (PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP PRESS CONFERENCE)
[11:41:06] CURNOW: There you have it, U.S. President Donald Trump updating the nation from the White House on that shooting in which a gunman targeted congressional leaders who were playing a baseball game just outside Washington, D.C. The president confirmed that the gunman responsible for this shooting has died.
Earlier we got information about the man. He is - was 66 years old. His name was James Hodgkinson and apparently came from Illinois. Also, according to the president, authorities continue to investigate the crime, and they will come up with some sort of motive, although one GOP representative,Jeff Duncan, is telling CNN that the shooter asked him before shooting if they were Democrats or Republicans.
Of course, this has really hit hard at the heart of Washington. These were lawmakers, leaders within congress, and we'll continue to cover that story.
We're also keeping an eye on what has been playing out in London. A massive fire, an inferno ablaze that just engulfed a tower block there.
And our Isa Soares is on the ground. She's been speaking to eyewitnesss and continues all of our live coverage from there - Isa.
SOARES: Thank you very much, Robyn.
If you're just joining us, welcome to CNN's breaking news coverage here of this horrifying ordeal for the families behind us here in West London. We're actually
in Lancaster Road.
Just so you know, if you can see over my right shoulder in that building, they're still trying to take out, still battling that blaze that's been going on for 16 hours now - 16, almost 17 hours.
And this is a 24-story building, completely consuming the entire building. The stories that we've been hearing of families of really dangling their children dropping their children from the sixth and seventh floors. We neighbors hearing children screech and scream, sounds they really cannot really take off their minds. And we are expecting as well a statement from the police, from the local authorities here shortly. As soon as that happens, we'll bring it to you.
But I want to bring in Oren Liebermann who was here in the early hours of the morning when this blaze was really completely engulfing this building, talk to us about what you heard, the witnesses, the ordeals that everyone went through, because now this past several hours now, but that is crucial, isn't it?
LIEBERMANN: I would say now there's almost a tense quiet. People are still very uneasily and many are still waiting to find out what has happened to their
loved ones, to their friends and their family. When I got here, it's difficult to imagine the fire pouring out of this building. It was a thick, black column of smoke. And you couldn't see what you see now. You couldn't see the burned out buildings there - the burned out windows. You couldn't see through
the building, because there was too much fire and there was too much smoke.
And there was a crowd here that just watched in stunned silence as the entire building went up in flames. And it was clear very early on, and this was some 90 minutes or so after the fire had started, that not much would be left inside.
SOARES: How quickly did it spread?
LIEBERMANN: By all accounts, incredibly quickly. And that's one of the questions as to why did it spread incredibly quickly? And there wasn't enough time
to get out. Buildings are we spoke to a fire and rescue services expert, buildings are designed to slow down the spread of a fire to give people time to evacuate, and yet, every single person we
have spoken with who was here this morning said the fire spread incredibly quickly and may have compromised the staircase at some point making it incredibly difficult to evacuate, and that is part of what people are angry about and terrified about in terms of what happened in this building behind us.
What's left now is nothing. This is a small fraction, the smoke that's billowing. We've seen hot spots flare up, but this is a fraction, a tiny fraction of what we've seen today.
SOARES: We're talk about 124, roughly, families in here, 24 stories, many reportedly told not to leave their apartment. Why would they be told that?
LIEBERMANN: So, that's what we asked actually the fire and rescue services expert. Is that even possible as a building procedure. And he said, look, it's possible, although there's a big debate in the community of rescue experts as to whether that's actually sa good idea. The idea behind it, he says, is that there is a core, a protective core within a building that is supposed to keep the fire from spreading and create a safe area. It seems like, just watching the fire unfold, that that didn't happen and...
SOARES: Was there a core? Because from what I heard, from one person, the actual fire perhaps started as a slither down the side of the building.
LIEBERMANN: And it may actually have spread - from some of the eyewitnesses we've spoken with, around the outside and worked its way in, which may have have defeated the entire purpose, the entire effect of a kind of core.
Those are questions we have at this point, and maybe we'll get some kind of an update here, they're setting up for a press conference here and we expect to hear from the London fire brigade. SOARES: So in the meantime, some of the families that we're hearing that couldn't get (inaudible) to stay in. Really, we've heard reports of families with torches in their hands trying to draw attention to neighbors and people feeling from outside they were absolutely helpless, they can't do anything.
What have you heard from the local community? How have they been able to help?
LIEBERMANN: The biggest way they've helped, and part of this is a function of the fire spreading so quickly, is helping and donating at the community centers. And we've seen people bringing goods to here. They were redirected to those community centers, for people who are effectively now, or completely now, homeless.
There has been that outpouring of support, but part of that as you point out is the feeling of helplessness, because there was no going in to that building without fire equipment, without some sort of breathing apparatus, because of how fast it spread and because of how intense the flames were so quickly.
Let me bring in Fred Pleitgen, because Fred you've been speaking to some of the witnesses who saw this all unfold, many clearly shaken by what they've seen and the stories they're hearing.
I want to get your thoughts on what you're hearing, but just bear in mind I might have to interrupt you, Fred, at some point whilst we wait for this press conference to begin. Tell us what you're hearing, Fred.
PLEITGEN: Well, Isa, I mean, what we're hearing is people describing the horror that they felt when they realized that the building that they were in was on fire. We spoke to several people who were inside the building when they noticed that there was something
wrong. There was one gentleman I spoke to said he was sort of dozing in and out sleep and at some point he heard a noise outside and then he felt the sort of smell of burning plastic, and then he went out on his balcony and then all of a sudden he heard people screaming. And he said what he did then was he grabbed his family and then he moved his way to the staircase.
And it was interesting, what Oren there was just saying, that the staircase apparently was quite congested as people were trying to get out.
It seems as though there was only one staircase for all the people who live inside that building, as you've noted about 124 families that were in there. So, several hundred people to try and get out that building. And he said it was very difficult to get down. He said there was smoke developing there as well.
And the other interesting thing that he said is that there really wasn't very much in the way of a warning. He said when you went into the staircase to try and get out, that emergency staircase, that he heard a bit of a sound, but he's not sure whether that was a real alarm or whether there was some sort of hissing by something that might have been affected by if fire.
So, on the one hand folks are saying, look, it obviously caught them way off guard, because it happened in the middle of the night, a little after 1:00 a.m. when most people would have been absolutely sound asleep.
SOARES: I think we have lost Fred Pleitgen. We'll try to reconnect. But let me just speak to Oren Liebermann. He was talking pretty much, Oren, about what the scenes he's heard of the people, the people, many people asleep at 1:00 in the morning, as you would assume, many, of course, in their pajamas and unaware of what was happening.
Also, perhaps there was no fire alarm. And this is something that we've been hearing, isn't?
LIEBERMANN: It is. It's something we've heard repeatedly from the very beginning of the today from 3:30 this morning until right now. And it's not only the fire alarm, it's the accessibility to the stairs and it's general safety concerns about the building. We got a chance to talk with Nick Paget-Brown earlier today. He is the former leader of the residents association here. He left six months ago. He'd been here for two years, two-and-a-half years, he said. He left six months ago partially because of those safety concerns.
Let's see what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK PAGET-BROWN, LOCAL COUNCIL LEADER: I know a number of people who have been evacuated safely and taken to community centers nearby where they are receiving support from the emergency services and from council backup teams. So everything we can do to help those who have been evacuated is being done. But clearly this is - you can see it, this is an absolutely devastating fire, and it is still ongoing. And the emergency services are dealing with it at the moment. So, we need to be supporting them and making sure that our residents have somewhere safe they can go.
LIEBERMANN: Any estimate of how many people are getting help in those support centers now?
PAGET-BROWN: Again, at the moment, lists are being prepared, the number of residents, but obviously not everybody would have been at home when the fire started, so that work is going on at the moment.
But a number are being supported in a number of different community centers nearby.
[11:50:14] LIEBERMANN: And simply looking at the building behind us, you get a very quick sense that this is not one day of support that they will need, it just looks like those who were able to get out have just lost everything. Is there - are there plans in place for long- term support for those who will need to get back on their feet after this?
PAGET-BROWN: We have a clear emergency plan for dealing with the immediate incident, and then there will need to be a thorough plan of how we can help residents who have lost their homes and where we next accommodate them.
And that work will be starting now. And when we have more information, we will share it.
LIEBERMANN: And we have both looked back on this as we've been standing here getting ready for this simply stunned at what we see behind us. You've been out here for a couple of hours, describe to me what you have seen.
PAGET-BROWN: Well, I've seen the most devastating fire in a residential building I've ever seen. And by all accounts it spread quickly. I came here as soon as
I can after I heard about it, but there's a big cordon around the area. And our main priority concern at the moment is to get residents out safely and to establish exactly how many people have been injured or sadly may have lost their lives.
LIEBERMANN: But still the worst fear everybody's worst fear at this point.
PAGET-BROWN: Well, I'm afraid it is. You just have to look at the building, and it's a great concern.
So, we need more information. This is an early stage of an awful incident, but the council is - all the council's activities are going as they should do, and we will update people as we have more information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMAN: It is worth pointing out that we got a response earlier today from the management company. And this is from Robert Black, the chief executive of the management company. And he says the fire at the Grenfell Towers devastating and the reports of injury and losses of life absolutely heartbreaking. Along with my colleagues, I've been supporting resident since the early hours, working with the emergency services and the community.
Currently, we're focusing on helping those residents and London fire brigade is investigating the safety of the tower structure. But we will issue a statement in due
course. We have not gotten a further statement, perhaps one is forthcoming.
The mayor addressed this, though, it was actually the first question posed to him about the history of complaints, a history of concerns, and was there one. And his response was interesting. He said, look, there have been, quote, genuine concerns. And he will be, quote, demanding answers. He's heard the concerns and heard the complaints. It seems he hasn't had time to look into them, but if he's promising an investigation, there will be answers to how serious were
the safety concerns ionside this building.
SOARES: And, Fred, I'm sure you were listening to this conversation and you were talking really much the community spirit, almost like a (inaudilbe) spirit we're seeing in London. And people doing what they can with water, shelter, food, but how much anger is there regarding these concerns, concerns regarding the building? What have you been hearing?
PLEITGEN: Well, you know, Isa, I think at that point in time, most people really are concerned about the health of their neighbors, the loved ones that they know were inside that building. And one of the things that we keep pointing out, which is absolutely true and worth pointing out again, is the fact that this is a very, very close knit community. And there's people that we've been speaking to who don't live in that housing block, who live next door, who are also absolutely traumatized by what happened, because they obviously know people who live inside that building.
Many people tell us that they know folks who are simply unaccounted for at this point in time. But, of course, at the same time, there is also some anger that is also beginning to flare up, simply because people are saying, look, there have been these concerns in the past. There's been that blog by the action group that was saying that there are these concerns, that was trying to get the council to do something about it. They felt that they weren't adequately being listened to.
They put out a statement earlier today saying, look, it took something like this to finally wake people up. So, there was a lot of frustration there apparently beforehand. There is a lot of anger here that is here right now, and it certainly is something that's starting to build up.
But we're still in the early stages. Obviously, there's still a lot of people out here who are missing people who don't know where their loved ones are, who don't know where their neighbors are, so that obviously is paramount at this point in time.
But people are demanding that there be a thorough investigation into that to find out what exactly went wrong, but also to make sure that something like this does not happen anywhere else if, indeed, there were faults with the building, possibly faults with the material. That's something that people say absolutely needs to be found out, needs to be a thorough investigation and a real explanation as to how a blaze could get out of control like this, because I've spoken to eyewitnesses, as well, who said that they found it very strange that a blaze that started in the
lower part of the building, I think around the fourth floor, all of a sudden started spreading very, very quickly up the side of the building. People want to know why exactly that happened, how that could happen, because there are actually also a lot of other buildings here in this city, and indeed, in this area that have very, very similar cladding on them as well.
SOARES: Yeah. Because this building, this 24 -story building, Fred, this had major refurbishment, I think it was $10 million or so, just $10.5 million. So, what exactly was done to the building?
[11:55:10] PLEITGEN: Well, there were a lot of things that were done to the building. There was a whole newsletter that was put out by the company that runs the building about the refurbishment and the demolition going on, about some of the deconstruction, some of the demolition that was going on. There was a new ventilation system in the lobby of the building that was supposed to help in case there was a fire, but also to make the air in the building better. There was also new gas units that were put in as well.
And then, of course, there was the outside of the building. There was the facade that got that new cladding, which in part was due to energy efficiency. It's unclear whether or not they thought that would also help with the fire safety even though it seems as though it might have done the exact opposite.
But you're absolutely right, it was a very, very big refurbishment that took place here over a long period of time. And some of the newsletters, I've been going back and reading some of the newsletters that were put out by the company that runs the building, also introducing the actual construction company that did the construction that, by the way, came out earlier today and said that according to everything that they know, all the construction here was
done according to professional criteria. They say all the fire safety and building safety standards were met at all times and were monitored as well.
But the big question is, of course, was there something that might still have been faulty.
But this was a big project that went on for several years. The earliest newsletters about this informing folks who live in the building, telling them about the procedures, date all the way back to the early part of 2014 and then kept going on where there were some concerns that apparently were raised. There was also, as well, some of that guidance put out in one of those newsletters about what people are supposed to do if, indeed, there is a fire. So, all of that seems to have been addressed at one period of time.
But also at the same time, it certainly seems to be the case that there were these concerns that people were voicing about whether or not this refurbishment could pose a fire hazard and whether or not the council was addressing that in the proper way.
SOARES: Many questions I can imagine local community want answered by the authorities, and I'm sure we'll get them in due course, because it seems now the authorities are focusing on the families trying to house those who really left with nothing but their clothes on their back, the clothes they were wearing at just 1:00 in the morning in really kind of in a state of shock and horrifying ordeal of, of course.
Erin McLaughlin, talk to us about what you've been hearing.
MCLAUGHLIN: Hi, Isa. Well, I'm here outside Rugby Portobello, this is one of many centers that have been set up, places for people to come to donate items to the victims as well as to get information. We have heard, though, in the past hour that they are moving families who lost their homes in this tragedy away from this center to three main shelters in the nearby area, shelters better equipped to be able to house them, but we do understand some families are still here trying to get more information about their loved ones, about their friends.
And, really, information is what victims say they need right now. They want to hear from authorities about what happened to those living in that building, what
happened to the missing.
I was speaking to one man, Ahmad Shalat, he lived in the nearby area. He described to me the horrors. He saw the building go up in flames knowing that he had family inside. He said he called his sister-in- law who was still in her apartment. She was there with her children. And she had told him that she had been instructed to move to another room. And he says that that is the last time he'd heard from her. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHALAT: I saw it is incredible. This morning I heard sirens, fire, engine, police sirens, ambulance sirens. I looked out and I though, well - but when I went to my bedroom, I looked from my bedroom window, I saw Grenfell Tower on fire. I rushed down, because we have two members must have family living there, my sister-in-law and her family and my brother-in-law and his family.
I wake up my daughter to phone her aunty and her uncle. And then by the time we got out which is about less than five minutes, half of the building was on fire, and then when we rushed down before the police and everybody got near us, we could see people
waving and people screaming from the windows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: Shalat tells me that with every hour that goes by, he fears the worst about what happened to his family members that were inside that building.
I spoke to one man who told me that he had friends inside, friends that lived above the 13th floor. He said he hasn't heard from anyone who lived above the 13th floor in that building.
It really gives you a sense of the kind of tragedy that people here are facing, given that authorities have yet to put a number on the missing.