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London Tower Block Fire: Witnesses Say 'No Warning' Was Given; Fire Victims Rushed to Hospital; Nick Padget-Brown Arrives On Scene Of Fire. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired June 14, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[02:00:03] UNIDENTFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to our viewers from around the world, I'm Amara Walker.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Vause. This is "Newsroom" L.A., and we'll continue with breaking news out of West London.
A massive fire engulfing this 27-story apartment building overnight. Thirty people have been taken to five different hospitals, but the extent of their injuries right now remains unknown. The Royal Council for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea says a major emergency plan has been activated.
WALKER: And right now, there is a thick cloud of black smoke, billowing from the high-rise. It looks a bit more gray now. No word yet on how the fire started and the A-4, a major road in West London, is closed in both directions while emergency crews are on the scene.
Earlier, we spoke with Omar Choudary. He was at the fire about an hour after it began.
OMAR CHOUDARY, WITNESS: Right. Just as I was on my way home and we saw the blaze just kind of -- it was one side of the building, it was completely on fire. It was just absolutely like just, top to bottom, just covered. It was just quite dark at the time as well. The sun was just -- hadn't even risen yet, so you could literally see very, very clearly and, you know, plain sight of it, you know.
We tried stop up for the (INAUDIBLE) road as well and, you know, it was very (INAUDIBLE) hadn't taken control of the situation yet. And after a while, it was (INAUDIBLE) went along, so it was very, very intense.
VAUSE: Omar, was it -- could you tell, when you arrived, was the fire still, like, contained to the upper part of the building, or by that point, had it spread to all of the floors? CHOUDARY: I think by then, it was through most of the building, it was probably at its peak as well at the time. It was -- like, you could see bodies falling out the building. You could see people just, like, that have been caught up in the blaze and just started trying to jump and, you know, and it was the only option as well.
So -- and I was there with my wife, and it was just absolutely incredible to witness that as well. So you could see it from very, very far. Like, I'm at home now, which is, you know, a few miles away, but you can still see the smoke from here as well. It's literally, like, anywhere in London, you could probably see the smoke from this fire. It's huge.
WALKER: Omar, you're, like, the fourth or fifth witness that I've heard say that, you know, you saw people jumping out of the windows, falling out of the building. Can you go a little bit more into that? How many people did you see jumping from the building and from how high up? What floors were they jumping from?
CHOUDARY: Well, they say there's about 20 -- over 24 floors in the building. So I think from about midway, so maybe about 12th, 13th floor. And then my wife saw maybe one or two, I saw a couple as well. I don't know exactly how many, because at that point, it's just -- it's shocking seeing it. But definitely, there was obviously debris flying around as well, just from the building. It's, like, you could clearly see when someone is just jumping off.
Yes, I would say from about, you know, the midway point. From the top, it was completely, you know, in a blaze. You didn't know what was going on and it was -- you could literally see individual rooms and, you know, the fires within them as well, room by room, just fire, and fire, fire, fire. It just (INAUDIBLE) and it just kept growing.
VAUSE: Omar, there are some reports out there that some of the residents of the building tried to tie sheets together, sort of make ropes actually to escape the flames. Did you see anything like that?
CHOUDARY: What's that? Sorry, can you repeat the question?
VAUSE: Did you see any residents that were using sheets, tying them together to try and, you know, climb down the side of the building or to try and get away from the fire? There were some reports out there.
CHOUDARY: No, I didn't see anything like that because, you know, there was too much fire in a way (INAUDIBLE) the exact, like, you know, details (INAUDIBLE) that. There was a lot of, you know, emergency services (INAUDIBLE) at that time so they were just blocking off -- there's a main highway there that leads into Central London from, you know, West London. And they just closed it off and that's, like, a major road.
So right now, like, you know, everyone's probably going to work and that road's closed off. So you can't even go there. But I'll (INAUDIBLE) blocking the roads off and (INAUDIBLE) arriving, you know, there's (INAUDIBLE) a lot of fire engines -- fire brigades there as well. I (INAUDIBLE) news report. The news reporters just coming up at the time while this was happening. So it was very, very, like, fresh and, you know, (INAUDIBLE)
VAUSE: Could you tell what the firefighters were actually doing at that point? Were they -- could you see, though, going into the building at that stage? Or were you too far away?
CHOUDARY: Yes. No, I was -- I think you could see that they closed off a lot of the areas around it, but (INAUDIBLE) closed off, I just started (INAUDIBLE) but firemen were going through and we can't get, like, (INAUDIBLE) as possible. From where I was standing, you can't see directly, you know, the bottom of the building. So you don't know what's happening on the ground. But you could see, like, the blaze in front of you, like, just the building itself.
VAUSE: Omar Choudry, a witness on the ground speaking to us a little earlier.
WALKER: Joining us now, CNN's Phil Black, he arrived at the scene just shortly after the fire started. And Phil, you spoke with someone who narrowly escaped the building?
PHIL BLACK, CNN FREELANCE REPORTER: So we've been talking to a group of people around here, Amara. There are community centers being set up to support people who had to flee the building in the middle of the night. You can pick those people relatively easily because they're still wearing whatever they were sleeping in, largely.
These are people who are very shaken, considerably traumatized. We met one man who was clearly very upset who said he'd lost his wife and he still hadn't found -- had no contact with her many hours after having fled the building. So most of those we speak to are people who believe they were very fortunate, that they were awake or woke up pretty quickly around 1:00, 1:30 in the morning, heard the smoke, or sensed that something wasn't quite right, and were able to run and to grab their family, whatever they could, and get out. These are people that, this morning, are very shaken up. But let's take a listen to some of their stories now.
UNIDENTFIED MALE: I'm in bed watching a film, crashing at my girlfriend's, fast asleep. The little girl's fast asleep. And then just (INAUDIBLE) I smell something, like, plasticky. And for one second, I (INAUDIBLE) other devices in the house (INAUDIBLE) check all the plugs. So I got up, checked the plugs (INAUDIBLE) the heat, it was all OK. Right next to the kitchen, opened a window, (INAUDIBLE) up a cigarette, and I heard shouting. It's getting bigger, it's getting bigger. I said, what's going on here? And I could smell the smell even stronger.
So I go to the front door, I looked through the spyhole and there was just smoke everywhere. So I opened the door, see what's going on, there's neighbors all running out, people were screaming, "There's a fire, man. Get out the block, get out the block." So I'm running in my boxers. I run back in, put my dressing gown on, grabbed the little girl, got around to my dressing gown, got my girlfriend up, and ran down the stairs, down to the ground floor and out and then looked up and it was literally how we got out.
It was -- half of the block was ablaze by the time we got down and it was just spreading like wildfire. All the (INAUDIBLE) on it, it was just going up and up and up. And there weren't no proper fire alarm at this very night, you know, one that was going to wake no up or nothing like that. And then it was all fire in his (INAUDIBLE) it was like they weren't doing nothing outside for ages. It was just burning, you know, get a move on. (INAUDIBLE) forever and forever up the road.
BLACK: So what was the smoke like as you were trying to get out?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Thick, black. Thick, black. If I fell asleep, we'd have all been dead. That's how bad it was, 100 percent. Because there weren't no water, there weren't no proper noise in there. There -- nothing was happening. Do you know what I mean? It was frightening.
BLACK: That's one story. We spoke to another woman who was on the 17th floor with her family. Remember the fire started quite high up the building. She sensed that something was wrong, stuck her head out into the hallway, saw the thick black smoke, tried to grab her family. Grabbed her daughter. Her husband, she said, was simply too unwell to move quickly, so she moved ahead of him and was separated from him for a time. They have since been reunited. She believes he's safe in hospital, she's been told. But she was clearly very traumatized, very upset. She just kept saying she kept thinking of the faces that she saw through the smoke in the hallways, as she was trying to escape.
One consistent point that people keep bringing up that we've been talking to about how the fire spread. Remember, this is a tall but concrete building. We've been talking a lot today about how the fire spread so quickly between the floors. There's a very common theory among all the residents we've spoken to. They say that some point in the last few years, the exterior had been renovated with some form of external cladding to improve its appearance. So it's not timber, not metal, some form of synthetic substance. But they say -- and the pictures seem to support this as well, the pictures from the fire in full flight overnight. They say it was that external cladding that essentially fueled the fire on the exterior of the building and allowed it to move so quickly between so many floors. John, (INAUDIBLE)
VAUSE: Phil, a couple of things, we just heard from Michael who, basically, like so many of the other survivors I think you've talked to, say they thought something was up. As he was leaving, he heard the faint sound, I think, of a fire alarm. Another survivor, you said, she just thought something was wrong and got out. Has anybody there actually said to you that they did hear any kind of fire alarm and that's what alerted them that the building was actually ablaze? Or was everyone just -- essentially, those who got out were the ones who thought, something's not right here, and then they realized the fire was under way? BLACK: All those we've spoken to, John. No one has said, "I heard the alarm and knew something was wrong." They said they noticed the alarm as they were leaving the building, at best. Other people haven't commented on the alarm at all.
You're right, it was people who smelled something. That seems to have been the first sign that something wasn't quite up. And it seems to be what side they were on in the building, in terms of just how quickly they were alerted by the smell. Because obviously, the fire was spreading on one side first. It seems people closer to that side became more aware that something was wrong, smelled this strange chemical like smell, they say, and that's what led them to stick their head into the hallway.
And then they started hearing noise and commotion within the building. Very soon after that, smoke. And that was the series of events as a number of people have told us, that led them to grab what they can, grab their loved ones and run for their lives.
WALKER: And Phil, do they talk about other people escaping with them? Running down the stairs with them as well? How many people did they see that were able to leave along with them?
BLACK: A few of the people talked about this, yes. And as I said, it was one woman who said she just saw faces -- traumatized, terrified faces, and that's what's still haunting her many hours later.
So there was clearly a surge of people, as it became known that something wasn't quite right, running and they talk about escaping through the thick black smoke. But getting outside, running some distance from the building, then only, at that point, looking up and seeing just how much of the building was engulfed and seeing that the fire had crawled across one whole side of the building.
These are people who, this morning, are counting themselves very, very lucky. A lot of people have expressed a great deal of, well, gratitude. They've commented on the sense of luck they feel that they happened to be awake, or that they were able to awake reasonably quickly and easily.
And they're deeply worried about their friends, their neighbors, the people that they see in the building every day, that they pass. The many hundreds of people they believe who live there. They say there were six apartments per floor, varying in size between one bedroom and, I believe, up to three bedrooms, one man told me. So you're talking about many hundreds of people. The people that we've seen are the ones that they believe -- well, they say they are very lucky. Because they're the ones that realized something was going on quickly. They were able to get out. And they are desperately worried about all the other people they left behind.
VAUSE: Yes. Phil --
WALKER: Yes. I guess we'll see how fast the flames spread as soon as they had gotten out. VAUSE: Six apartments per floor, 120 apartments, 30 people accounted for in hospitals, some obviously in the evacuation center. Many people still unaccounted for. As regards to those 30 who are now being treated at five different hospitals, Erin McLaughlin joins us now from St. Mary's Hospital in London with more details on the people who are now being treated after this fire.
Erin, do we know exactly the extent of how badly injured or wounded these people have been after this fire?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, we're just getting -- beginning to get a picture of the nature of the injuries, the casualties from this horrific fire. I'm here outside of St. Mary's Hospital in London. This is one of five hospitals treating some 30 patients. That, according to the London ambulance service. I was just speaking to the hospital spokesperson a short while ago. She declined to give me the official numbers in terms of patients being treated at this hospital, but she did say that this is one of four major trauma centers in the London area. This is where they would send the most seriously injured.
And in the overnight hours, they did declare a major incident at this hospital, which essentially means that they called in extra staff. They have special procedures in place to deal with, kind of, large- scale incidents that we saw unfold there in West London today. So again, we're only getting -- beginning to get sort of a picture of the types of casualties that they're dealing with.
It seems highly likely though, smoke inhalation, burns potentially among the casualties. But as you can see outside -- here outside the hospital, at least right now, the situation seems pretty subdued and calm. I was just talking to a couple doctors on their way into work. And they told me they are waiting to see if more casualties will arrive for treatment.
WALKER: All right. Erin McLaughlin, standing outside one of the hospitals where the 30 patients were taken.
VAUSE: Just -- it's interesting what Erin was saying, though. Clearly, smoke inhalation will be the big issue here for many people who are being treated after this fire. Combine that with what Michael said, the witness that was talking to Phil Black just a short time ago about smelling something that was like plastic, which may have been that cladding on the outside of the building, which, you know, obviously there will be an investigation. This is still very early. Speculation is that maybe that -- it was the cladding which fueled this fire. If it was plastic, then there are fumes involved in that as well. That causes respiratory problems which makes this, you know, so much worse than, you know, just your average, you know, house fire or residential fire, if you like.
WALKER: Yes, so there could be a wide variety of injuries that doctors will be dealing with.
Let's head back out to Oren Liebermann who is on the scene. He's joining us now. Oren, what is the latest on this firefight? Is everything under control? It looks like the building is obviously still smoldering.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't have an update from firefighters officially or from the fire brigade that the fire is contained or under control yet. But what we do have is a better vantage point. We've moved in a little bit to get a better perspective, and we know, definitely, simply from looking at the flames behind us, the flames have certainly dissipated and so has the smoke.
For the hours that I've been here, it was a thick, black column of smoke that rose almost straight from the building, straight into the early morning sky. That has dissipated as has the flames. When I arrived here, there were flames visible in almost every singly window. And now, you can see all of the either blown-out windows or broken. And some other windows, you can see through the building at some points. You don't see flame, an indication that the fire itself has died down, perhaps some of that from the effort of firefighters, although we haven't seen them be able to get too high.
I do see a hose reaching just the bottom part of the top half of this building. Above that, very difficult for firefighters to get to, and that has just been one of many challenges they have been dealing with at this point.
A couple of hours ago, I got a chance to speak with Nick Padget-Brown, he is the head of the local Kensington & Chelsea Council. This is the council building, an indication that this is public housing and they were in charge of it. We've spoken to a number of people here who complained about the safety of the building. Those complaints would go through Nick Padget-Brown's council to the fire brigade. We asked him for the latest information he has and what the community is doing to support those who need it, of which there are many dozens, perhaps even hundreds of people who need help now.
Here is what Nick Padget-Brown had to say.
NICK PADGET-BROWN, LEADER, KENSINGTON & CHELSEA COUNCIL: I know a number of people 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's 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 residents have somewhere safe that they can go.
LIEBERMANN: Any estimate on how many people are getting help in those support centers now?
BROWN: I don't know at the moment. Lists are being prepared with the number of residents. Obviously, not everybody will 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.
LIEBERMANN: And simply looking at this 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 if place for long-term support for those who will need to get back on their feet after this?
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.
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: That's still the worst fear -- everybody's worst fear at this point?
BROWN: 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.
LIEBERMANN: Approximately a couple of dozen flats in this area have been evacuated. We know that from the fire brigade. And that most likely because of the falling debris off this building which we've seen over the last few hours. As the flames were at their most intense, we saw chunks -- some of them quite large chunks -- falling off the building. As police have had the area cordoned off, they took that a step further, again, evacuating a couple of dozen flats in the area for the safety of all those around.
Nick Padget-Brown's concern is the concerned we've heard echoed so many times this morning, and that's the concern that not everyone was able to make it out. We know that some valleys families were able to evacuate. We know that, just from speaking to those here, that there was an evacuation effort. Some, perhaps many, have made it out. But there is not a definitive answer on whether that includes everyone or not. And that, at this point, is the greatest fear that we hear echoed repeated time and time again here.
We are hoping for an update from the fire brigade, perhaps here or in some other location. We don't know that that's definite yet, but that might shed some light on where their efforts stand to contain and put out this fire, and if they've even started to begin the investigate as to what the cause of this was, and if there are any lessons that can be learned from it, and if the building itself wasn't up to par in terms of safety standards.
So at this point, the main question is, how soon can the fire be out? That is the focus of the fire brigade's effort. And as the scene is restored to some level of calm here and order, as we've been quite a few hours since the fire started, the concern has spread to the hospitals and the community centers as friends and families try to find their loves ones and to make sure that as many people as possible, perhaps everyone, is OK, following the fire that gutted this building in the early hours in West London.
WALKER: All right. Oren Liebermann, thanks so much, on the scene there for us.
VAUSE: Oren's been there for hours, doing some hard hours there and doing some good reporting. We appreciate everything, Oren, thank you.
A little bit of background now on the building. We've been telling you it's 27 stories. It's called the Grenfell Tower, built in the 1970s. It's been undergoing a $10 million renovation. This is how it looked before the fire.
WALKER: And the building is in the West London suburbs, close to Notting Hill. It is a short walk from the Latimer Road Underground Station and the Westfield Shopping Center. Now, according to the property website, right move, the average rent in the building is around $2,500 a month.
VAUSE: And we're also told that essentially, 20 floors had the apartments, mostly 20 -- what was it?
VAUSE: Twenty-seven floors with six apartments per floor, is what we're told. And 120 apartments in all. So 20 floors basically contained all of the apartments, mostly one and two bedroom apartments and maybe even the occasional three bedrooms as well.
WALKER: We also want to show you some disturbing new video. As firefighters work to put out the flames, you can see a person, trapped inside his apartment, you can see he is waving a towel or a flag to signal firefighters for help.
VAUSE: There are sparks as well, which seem to be part of the building, falling from above. We -- at this point, we just don't know what happened to that person. We don't know if they got out, we don't know if they're still there. We'll try and find out. The London ambulance services -- you know, 30 people have been taken to hospital.
But this is what so many witnesses have been telling us.
WALKER: Exactly, I was going to say, yes.
VAUSE: That they saw these people in their windows, not just adults, but children, one was saying --
WALKER: Flames surrounding them.
VAUSE: -- 3 or 4 years old, trying to get attention. Trying to get some help.
WALKER: Yes. Just a horrible image there and we hope that that person was able to make it. Again, we don't know the situation and the results of what happened after the fact.
We're going to take a short break here right now, and when we come back, we're going to hear from witnesses to the London fire. Dramatic stories of people jumping from the building to escape the flames. Stay with us.
WALKER: Welcome, everyone. We continue to follow breaking news from West London where a 27-story residential building has gone up in flames. You can see by the pictures, it's very difficult for firefighters and rescue workers to get close to the building. So we don't have a lot of information on any casualties at this point. The London ambulance service says though it has taken 30 patients to five different hospitals.
VAUSE: The fire started overnight. One witness has told us around 1:30 local time. That's, what, about six hours ago now. Maybe even a little more. Some say they saw people jumping from the building. Our reporters on the scene say they've now seen large chunks of debris falling from the high-rise to the ground.
And earlier, our Oren Liebermann spoke with a witness who said he ran into the building to save his family.
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Well basically, I was at my cousin's house before, not this house, another house. And I saw the fire from about five miles away. And we quickly came, and I didn't see much work going on by the fire brigade. So obviously, me and my cousin, we were jumping walls to get to the main entrance of the place.
My cousin lives on the 18th floor. So obviously, we couldn't go inside. But police and stuff, they wasn't letting us go through, so we had to barge in through. As the fire brigade went up, since they brought kids down, I was helping kids -- I saw a kid that couldn't breathe properly. My nephew was in there, my cousin was in there on the 18th floor in it. So it was a tragic moment.
LIEBERMANN: Have you heard from your cousins? Have you seen your nephews?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Yes, we brought them out. We held them out in our arms and the paramedics took them to hospital. We don't know what's happening.
LIEBERMANN: You know your family is safe. What was going through your mind then and what is going through your mind now?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: What was going through my mind is just, I want to save my family. I saw people jumping out the window, man. It was crazy. Saw people jumping out the window. What was going through my mind, I couldn't tell you, because at the time, I just wanted to save my family. My whole family was (INAUDIBLE) dinner together. That's just about it.
LIEBERMANN: And in the hours since, since you know your family is safe and you've watched this here now, what have you seen there? What have you seen in this building?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: What I've seen is a whole big fire. That's what I've seen. I seen people jumping off, people running. It's crazy. It's crazy. But a few people tell me before that they wanted to knock this building down. So I don't know.
LIEBERMANN: And why? What was it about the building?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: I don't know. The insulation wasn't good, that's what I'm hearing. Insulation wasn't good.
LIEBERMANN: How long had your cousins lived here and what did they say?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Well, he's lived here about five, six years. But, yes, the 18th floor, you can't get away from a fire on the 18th floor. But by God's grace, they got away, man.
LIEBERMANN: When you knew, you said you were five miles away, that's incredibly far away. When you saw the flames, did you know it was this building?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: We got a phone call from my aunty saying that there's a fire in the building. But at that time, we didn't know if anyone was in the house. So then we got a phone call saying they were in the house, but they were on the 18th floor.
LIEBERMANN: Your cousins, you know, are safe. You were able to help them down. You had mentioned that your nephew, I believe, was having difficulty breathing. Where are they now? And what happens next for your family?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Now, they're in the hospital, getting treatment. Hopefully, it's the right treatment, but I don't know what happens next.
LIEBERMANN: Still scared at this point, it seems, a little bit?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Of course, of course. Seeing your little cousin in his hands and not breathing properly. It's (INAUDIBLE) all my (INAUDIBLE) go out to the people that were there as well.
LIEBERMANN: Do you get a sense of how much this meant and how scared everyone is in the neighborhood?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Everyone, yes, yes.
LIEBERMANN: this whole group standing around us seems terrified around in there.
UNIDENTFIED MALE: I mean, the whole public was trying to help as well. Not just -- all public is trying to go in and help.
Me, myself, I was jumping. I was jumping gates to go out we I knew my family was inside. Whoever came, I was just grabbing them, putting them on the paramedic.
LIEBERMANN: They said the fire spread through the entire building very quickly. Is that what you saw?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Yes, it spread very quickly. Yes.
LIEBERMANN: And I'll point out that when I ask that, a number of other people who were just listening in the area also said yes, that gives you an idea of how quickly it started.
UNIDENTFIED MALE: It started from the fourth floor.
LIEBERMANN: Fourth floor?
UNIDENTFIED MALE: Fourth floor around 1:30 and it hasn't even ended yet.
VAUSE: Incredible story there of a man who saved his family running into the building. We're also hearing a lot from witnesses that there was no fire alarm. They were not woken by an alarm, they were not alerted to this by any kind of fire alarm system. One witness had said he thought he heard a faint buzzing of a fire alarm as he left the building. So obviously that will be part of what the investigators will be looking at.
WALKER: Yes. Some people acting on their instinct. There was a witness Phil Black spoke with and she said that, you know, she just felt like she should get out of the building. And --
VAUSE: That something was wrong.
WALKER: Yes, and someone also saying that they smelled something that smelled like plastic from the flames.
[02:30:02] Anyway, we are staying with the breaking news out of west London where a huge fire has engulfed a 27-story building. Eyewitness accounts and the latest on the evacuations right here on CNN.
WALKER: Back to our breaking news, a massive fire has engulfed a 27- story apartment building in West London. About 200 firefighters are battling the blaze right now. The local council for the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea says a major emergency plan has been activated in response. The fire broke out before sunrise when most people inside would be asleep. And that would be over what, six hours ago.
VAUSE: Thirty people have taken to five different hospitals across London. The extent of the injuries at this point in time just not known. One witness told us, he saw people jumping from the burning building. And as of now, we just don't know the cause of the fire.
Earlier, CNN spoke with one witness Goran Karini (ph).
WALKER: And he said he saw people jumping from the burning building.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORAN KARINI (PH), WITNESS: The fire started in one side of the building. And then actually it spread very quickly, within, you know, half an hour, the side of one -- it was just on fire. Now it has spread to the whole building. It's like -- it's just burning, just one ball of fire. There's a lot of people in there.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Right. How many people do you think are in there?
KARINI (PH): They said -- well, there are, I think, 124, 125 flats. So it could be a thousand people in there. And there are people actually jumping from windows. There are people shouting for help. It's really serious, I mean, because it was late. So I'm guessing there were a lot of people sleeping.
So, basically this is the situation now. I mean, right now, it's -- the whole thing is on fire, the whole building.
CHURCH: Just simply horrifying, the thought of people being trapped inside there. We're looking at live pictures here of that building. As you say, there's about 120 homes there. We do understand this building was built back in 1974, and it's undergoing major refurbishments at this time. So are all people living in there throughout this refurbishment period, do you think?
[02:34:58] KARINI (PH): Yes. Yes, it was mostly outside. It was done outside. There were people living in there because there was a lot people. So to be honest, I don't think many made it out because it was too late at the night. So everyone was asleep. This building is old, as you said. So there was people, every floor, every flat was people in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Gora Karini (ph) a witness there, speaking to Rosemary Church just a few hours ago, because so many people now remain unaccounted for. And now there's a search for those who survived this fire. And of course that could take some time.
Oren Liebermann joins us on the scene with more on that. And Oren, you have been speaking with the people turned up looking for friends, looking for relatives hoping for the best obviously, but terrified that of the worst.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you're absolutely right. In talking to people here, both people who knew friends and family inside the building and those who were just neighbors, those who simply lived in the area. The two emotions that we have seen repeated over and over again. And even reflected in our own thoughts about what might have been happening inside and near the building as this fire spread so quickly. Our hope and fear, hope that people were able to get out. That the evacuation work well enough? And that the warnings went around inside the building between neighbors well enough that everyone was able to get out.
But fear, fear that not everyone made it. And as the hours pass, fear is the predominant emotion we're seeing here. I got a chance to speak with Ness Davis who lives in the area. She has a friend who lives inside the 7th floor of the building. She spoke to her a few hours ago, but has not heard from her since. Here Ness Davis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NESS DAVIS, FRIEND OF VICTIM: Three hours ago, we were able to contact Rose, but now we're trying and she's not answering the phone. Hopefully she's still alive inside. But who would survive that? The whole building is 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 there's nothing happening, there's no help?"
That kind of frustration and I went down the stairs and talk to my neighbors and she said like, "Yes, why we can't hear much of the ambulance and, you know, fire brigade arriving?" There's nothing like that.
So from 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, "Is there any help that we can do offer?" Said, "Yes, maybe later on, because no one is allowed to go in there". No one is allowed to go in.
So that frustration, I just had my operation yesterday. I'm fighting for my life. And I was diagnosed of 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 there's help but they can't get in there. But I just -- the frustration of, like, why they are there, why they dying that way. And all I can do is help. I'm going to ask all the neighbors, the locals, just help, even with, you know, blankets, food. After this, I'm gonna go home and start cooking. And I'm going to bring food here. That's all I can help.
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, it's hot". That's all we can hear, she's saying it's hot. And after that, we try to contact her and she's not answering the phone. She's on seventh floor. She lives on the seventh floor.
LIEBERMANN: Hours later it's still scary to be out here, it's still worrying.
DAVIS: It's worrying because it's not just Rose. It's the people, 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. I can't speak anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMANN: Davis expressing those emotions that we had spoken about, that hope that her friend made it out, but the fear that her friend had not made it. But also taking part in the outpouring of community support for those who were able to evacuate with little possibly left of what they had inside.
[02:40:04] Those people, those who were able to evacuate will now need all the help they can get. I'll step out of the way here, so you can see what's happening behind me. It looks like four ambulance is quickly heading down this road straight towards the building, towards that fire. The fire has dissipated as we've seen over the last few hours. That does not mean the job here is over. As we can clearly see just at the end of this road, four ambulances pulling in now, as well as a number of fire trucks that have been here all morning.
We know the effect it's had on the surroundings. Dozens of flats in the area have been evacuated. Roads have been closed.
The tube has been affected as have bus routes because of the nature of the fire and the large area cordoned off, because of it there is still a long way to go here but firefighters are at work, as are the emergency crews, the hospitals and the community centers that are trying to take care of everyone here that they can.
VAUSE: Oren, thank you.
And the reason why those ambulances are on scene and moving, because this building, we believe still has not been fully evacuated. We did speak with one witness, he said he saw a man in an apartment within the past hour or so.
VAUSE: and he believed that he actually managed to get out. So while there are still many unaccounted for, there is still obviously this hope that people will maybe come out of there alive.
We're also being told by the London Fire Brigade, that this fire which began 1:00 local time, more than six hours ago now, started on the second floor and spread very quickly to the top of the building, the 27th floor. We know that small apartments, one or two bedroom apartments on -- about 120 of them, inside this residential apartment block. And many people have said that they did not hear a fire alarm, and that's been a recurring theme from many of those who managed to get out.
WALKER: Yes. A lot of anxious friends and family member that we're hearing from wondering if the people they know who live inside the building made it out, unsure of their fate. We also heard a lot of stories about bystanders seeing and hearing people banging on the windows, waiving towel or some kind of white fabric, hoping for help to come, people screaming, children screaming as the flames were surrounding them. That is what one witness talked about.
Let's head out to CNN's Phil Black, who joins us now and while we've been hearing stories of these people from the outside, watching what was happening to the people inside this building, Phil. You've been talking to people who actually were inside this building and made it out.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORREPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Amara. We're standing a short distance from the community center that's offering shelter to the people who -- well that was their home. They live there, they were sleeping there or they were in their homes last night when this fire broke out.
And we were able to speak to people who managed to flee once they realized that something was wrong. It's easy to pick them. These are the people that are still wearing whatever they were wearing at one 1:00 in the morning, usually they're sleeping when (inaudible) hasn't found them.
Other people expressed tremendous relief, really, gratitude that they realized that something was wrong, relatively early and they were able to escape. But there's no doubt these people have lived through an incredibly traumatic experience. I spoke to one woman who lived with her family on the 17th floor.
She told me her story. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Around 12:30, I smelled plastic burning and I didn't -- I opened my window and I saw a bit of, you know, like --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- smoke, yes. And I never thought it's a fire. Because I was waiting for alarm to come out but nothing came out. I start to hear -- I saw the bench inside the middle of the flat start to open and that open only when there's a fire.
When I heard them, I opened my flat, I went out. I saw people standing on stairs, doesn't know what's going on. And I just went back, wake up my daughter and my husband. My husband was very ill, I couldn't wake him up, he refused to come with me. I took my daughter and I just ran to the stairs. And soon I run out, I saw already the fire on holding one side and inside we didn't know what's going on because nothing came in. And we didn't know, no alarm, no water, nothing, we know like, it was very shocking.
BLACK: What floor did you live on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 15th floor.
BLACK: 15th floor?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BLACK: It's a quite high.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BLACK: And your daughter is OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just -- I know, I feel lucky because the people who was on the top of me, no one knew, especially from the other side. And I just remember the faces of the family, all of them have the children upstairs and no one else, no one know where they are. It's a very -- it's very horrible feeling.
[02:45:02] I just -- when I remember -- I just remembering the faces, the people faces, I can't -- sorry.
BLACK: It's OK, so terrifying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just was so lucky, something told me to leave. Imagine if I didn't feel -- if I didn't leave, what's going to happen. But thanks to God my family is safe but the other families I just feel sorry for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: So no doubt living through that clearly a traumatic experience. A lot of progress has been made, fighting the fire. I was just take you in for a closer look now, so that you can see what's actually happening. Some progress, but still flames leaping from some of those windows.
Now, an interesting thing that I've spoken to a lot of people who lived in that building about, is just how the fire was able to move so quickly between so many floors, in what is otherwise a very solid, concrete building. They all consistently have one theory. They talked about in the last few years, some renovations took place, which saw some cladding installed on the exterior to improve the appearance of the building.
They say it's not timber, not metal, some form of synthetic material, but they say that is what allowed the flames to rise so quickly between so many floors. And literally raced across the face of the building. And that's what they saw when they grabbed what they could, ran out, as you just heard, turned around, looked up. That's what they saw, they saw these flames literally licking their way up and down the face of the building.
And so there's just a tremendous degree of gratitude and relief among the people I been speaking to that that they were able to get out. But as you also heard, tremendous sorrow and concern for those who may not have. They're waiting to hear, just how everyone else is doing, back to you.
VAUSE: Thank you so much. We need to go to a news conference with the London Fire Brigade.
DANY COTTON, LONDON FIRE BRIGADE CHIEF: -- but please wear with us. As you can see, this is a unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything of this scale.
You must recognize that the firefighters are working very hard at the moment, so I'll give you a brief press statement and I cannot take questions at the moment. We will supply further information later. This is a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24-story building, from the second floor upwards.
I have over 200 of my firefighters and officers attending this incident. With 40 fire engines and a range of specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue units in attendance. Based on the level of resource that was needed at this fire, we declared this a major incident very early this morning.
London fire brigades control rooms took multiple calls to this incident, with the first call coming in at six minutes to 1:00. Our first fire engines were on scene in under six minutes. Crews wearing breathing apparatus and extended duration breathing apparatus have been working in extremely challenging and very difficult conditions, to rescue people and to bring this major fire under control.
London ambulance services have confirmed that currently 30, three zero people have been taken to five hospitals. At this time, I am very sad to confirm that there have been a number of fatalities. I cannot confirm the number at this time due to the size and complexity of this building.
And it would clearly be wrong for me to speculate further. Equally, the cause of this fire is not known at this stage. We will be here all day, and we will provide further updates while working very closely with our colleagues in the metropolitan police, and the London ambulance service, to bring this service under control.
Further information for the public will be made available shortly. Including advice for those concerned about those who are working here and people who live here. The emergency services will continue to work with all agencies, including the local authority, to support all affected by this incident. Thank you very much.
VAUSE: Well, that's the latest there from the London Fire Brigade on the situation, with the apartment fire in west London.
WALKER: Yes. And we just heard her, Dany Cotton, just confirm that there have been a number of fatalities as a result of this massive apartment fire, but she did hedge that by saying that she cannot confirm the number of people who were killed as a result of this fire. But again, the big headline out of that is that the fire brigade confirming that people have died as a result of this massive blaze.
[02:50:01] VAUSE: This is now a fatal fire, declared a major incident by the London Fire Brigade. And one of the reasons why they can't confirm the death toll of this, point she said it's because of the size and complexity of the building.
VAUSE: So with that we'll take a short break, you're watching CNN. A lot more of our coverage in just a moment.
VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching continuing coverage of the fire in London, which we know is a fatal fire, but the exact death toll is still to be confirmed. 30 people are being treated in five different hospitals and of course the cause is still under investigation.
WALKER: And a spokesperson for the fire that we just said that in her 29 years of working for the service, she has never seen anything of this scale and that this is unprecedented. Let's talk more about what happened in the early hours of the morning. Paul Littlejohn lives next door to the building. He was evacuated around 1:30 in the morning local time.
He has joining us now on the phone. What was your experience like at 1:30 in the morning, Paul?
PAUL LITTLEJOHN, LONDON FIRE WITNESS: I opened the door and I could see that there was like a towering inferno. People were putting sheets out the windows. The windows are exploding. People was just trying to jump out, people was on fire. One guy jumped out, broke his leg. The other guy was on fire, he didn't make it.
It was an absolutely nightmare. It was like a towering inferno, debris all over the place, things falling from the windows. It was a nightmare.
VAUSE: Paul, we're told by the fire brigade that this all began in about six minutes before 1:00 local time and fire crews were on the scene within about six minutes, by 1:00 a.m.
LITTLEJOHN: So and then, they was trying their best to put something, it didn't seem like they was trying hard enough during that fire at, but they fight to the edge is that, why didn't they drop water from the top of the building to make sure like (inaudible) in the tower inferno they drop water from the top from the building because they have water tanks.
Why didn't they top water from the top of the building, they never, instead they was trying that the bottom of the building but the fire was going to rise up. And that is what happened. You know, in my opinion is that they should have dropped water from the top, we bounces (ph) with helicopters.
VAUSE: All right.
LITTLEJOHN: And they had time to do that, but they didn't do it.
VAUSE: Yes, I guess that's the movies fault and this is real life. It's a lot more complicated like cases about the fire brigade and the firefighters will tell you. But as far as the people who were jumping from the building, was it from the high floors, or the lower floors?
LITTLEJOHN: Yes, with explosions, explosions, back drafts coming through the building, and glass exploding and debris, things falling off. Massive pieces of debris falling off are still on fire just missing firefighters, you know, missing people on the ground.
WALKER: My god, it just sounds so horrific, Paul. You said that you saw one person on fire. Where did you see this? What was happening?
LITTLEJOHN: From my door, I'm about 10 meters away. So at that point, it was all clear. And I thought he was just going to get, you know, washed out and put out. You know, I thought they just refurbished this building.
[02:55:06] So I felt like it happen to he fire from this right. But no, in fact, it wasn't and in fact that I think the cladding -- the cladding that they put on the building. But at 1:30 a.m., it was still OK to stay in at home. But by 2:00, the police came along and started evacuating everyone in the area. By that point, the building was, you know, just taking blaze like it was, you know, like it was something that was meant to burn.
VAUSE: Paul, do you have any idea of how long it was before, you know, the firefighters arrived on the scene and before they actually went into the building before actually --
LITTLEJOHN: The firefighters in fact just after 1:00, that's what I heard. But, you know, quite frankly, I only saw two fire engines at the bottom of the building, spraying water, and to be fair, in my opinion, it was pathetic. You know, that kind of fire, if you had an idea that it was going to spread that fast, they should have use thousands (ph) and they have put water from the top of the building, running down, because fire runs upwards. You know, and they didn't do that.
WALKER: What do you know about --
LITTLEJOHN: Instead what they did --
WALKER: Yes. And Paul --
LITTLEJOHN: -- spraying water at the middle of the building.
WALKER: Paul, what do you know about this building and its history? And do you know people who live there? Because we also heard people say that they were concerned.
LITTLEJOHN: Yes, it was got 24 -- it's got 24 stories hold (ph) 120 homes. And it's been two years under refurbishment.
WALKER: All right, did you hear from residents who possibly -- did anyone ever raise concerns about any fire hazards or concerns over the installation of this exterior cladding?
LITTLEJOHN: Been here and I got no one mentioned anything about that. I think everyone thought that the cladding wouldn't be fire-proof.
VAUSE: So Paul, you've been evacuated, what are you going to do now? Are you -- when you -- will you be allowed to return to your home?
LITTLEJOHN: They don't advise any time. I've been out here now for six hours, walking around. The fire brigade didn't advise anything, the police didn't advise anything. There was nobody coming around to check people that they had come out of the buildings nearby, or evacuated, and there was no signs up saying, this is an evacuation point stop here.
And really, you know, now this place in (inaudible), but at the time, no one was really doing anything. This is what and we were just walking around.
LITTLEJOHN: Which, again, I think that's pathetic.
VAUSE: OK, Paul, we'll leave it there. We'll see horrific accounts of what happened in the early hours there and just seeing what London has been through, the London terror attack on June 3rd, the Manchester bombing.
WALKER: And now this a fatal --
VAUSE: And may rather, yes.
WALKER: -- fatal massive fire in an apartment complex. You've been watching CNN Newsroom from Los Angeles. I'm Amara Walker.
VAUSE: I'm John Vause, the news continues next with Rosemary Church and Max Foster.