The SKWAWKBOX had a long and traumatic conversation this evening with a businesswoman based near Grenfell Tower who has friends and employees affected by the terrible fire and has been working to provide support and shelter to them and others.
The woman, who wanted her information to be told but asked not to be identified, told this blog about families who survived and those that didn’t, about the contribution of police and council staff or the lack of it – and about fears that the real death toll could be even higher than the 150-200 that music stars Lily Allen and Saskilla told reporters about.
Her own words, unadorned apart from the removal of names and floor numbers, follow:
There are two children that we know really well who were in the block. One family got out, the father was able to shield their little girl and thank God she’s fairly oblivious to everything that happened. But the other is in hospital, critically ill from smoke inhalation.
Another went missing and was separated from her mum. We heard from mum and found her utterly distraught. She spent the day looking for her daughter and finally found her. Their dog and their neighbour’s dog are missing – we’ve got the kids looking for the dogs, putting up posters so they’ve got something to do and don’t feel so helpless.
The scale of the loss is far bigger than anyone is admitting. One of my employees has 15 friends missing and believed dead. Another has two friends missing.
One of the little girls that got out with her family, she has 7 friends missing, all from [near the top of the block]. Her mum believes they’re the only survivors. At least two of her other friends have already been confirmed dead – one just 13 years old and the other fourteen.
My friend has a son in the same class as those girls. She went back to the block to find one little girl who’s in the hospital now. She’s been collating names of missing people and she’s already up to around two hundred.
200 is the figure everyone is saying locally, but it might be much worse.
One family got out from the [upper third]th floor. A neighbour came out of a flat at the same time but his elderly mum was still in the flat so he went back in.
The dad of that family told me that the whole way down from that floor he only counted eight others coming down the stairs and the firemen coming up were telling people to get back into their flats. That’s no blame on the firemen, they were just doing what they’d been told to do.
There’s burnt polystyrene everywhere – a local builder told me that it’s not from the panels – it’s too thick. He said it’s insulation – there were burning pieces as big as telephone boxes falling down on people as they came out of the block.
Are people angry? On Wednesday they were very silent. Everyone was in shock – nobody was visibly angry, although a lot of people were frustrated at the absence of the authorities.
People were saying they expected things to be more in place for a major incident, given the terror alert, but it was just chaos and we felt badly let down by the council.
Some council people came in but it was obvious they were just there to say they’d been there. They sat around and ate takeaways, then all left promptly at 6pm having done nothing. They had a face-mask on the table and one of the volunteers went to put it on while she went outside and they took it off her, told her that was only for staff – but they never did anything to need it.
My staff have been brilliant, the community has been brilliant. Some of the police have been fantastic but others just seem uninterested. We went with one mother to talk to a policewoman about her missing child and she just shrugged, no empathy at all.
This has been a community under siege in a way. We’re surrounded by £3.5m houses, there’s a little park to walk dogs. All the time we see people moving out because it’s too expensive.
The area started to gentrify couple of years ago. One family I know, they’re the only people in their block – the rest are empty or only occupied one week a year. The idea of requisitioning them to house people that have no home now is spot on.
Theresa May was a disaster. Jeremy Corbyn, though – good for him. I’m not a Labour voter but my friend says he’s the most decent principled politician there is.
Some people have said he was exploiting us for a photo opportunity. They couldn’t be more wrong. He was going around hugging people who needed it, totally genuine and really connecting with them.
Theresa May seemed like she was nervous of angry people – let them get angry if they need to, that’s your job. But there was no anger on Wednesday – just people mucking in.
Everybody I know who made it out, they know all their friends have died. They know – whole floors where everyone died. There are two sets of neighbours that some of my employees knew who are already confirmed.
The media should be saying ‘we know approximately 200 people died’ – there’s simply no question in anyone’s mind locally. But if there were 650 people in that block, it’s a lot higher than two hundred – there were nothing like 450 survivors. There’s a morgue with sixty bodies, just children.
There are around sixty people in the hospitals and the firemen got sixty out – but some of those might be the same ones that are in hospital. The best case would be 120 people who escaped unless there are people I don’t know about and I don’t think there are.
Going back in was the fatal thing – the fire spread so quickly. No fire alarms, just people banging and shouting. One family on one of the higher floors was saved only because the dad wasn’t working the next day, so he sat up late to watch a film. He looked out of the window because he heard fireworks – but it was the insulation behind the panels going up. He believes they were the only family on their floor to make it out.
The biggest need right now? Cash. People literally came out with no cash, no cards, no ID, no passport.. We’ve got plenty of physical stuff for such a small number of survivors – but people need cash to get by.
The people of the Latimer Road area want their stories to be told. Those of us who can, owe it to them to listen.
If you would like to donate to the Dispossessed Fund for those affected by the fire, you can do so here.