London, United Kingdom | AFP | Thousands of residents from 650 London flats were evacuated Saturday due to fire safety fears in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but dozens refused to leave their homes, according to local officials.
Four of the five Chalcots Estate towers in Camden, north London, were deemed unsafe after they were found to use cladding similar to that on Grenfell, widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.
Some 34 high-rise buildings in 17 local authorities in England have already failed urgent fire tests conducted after Grenfell, the government announced Saturday, raising fears that thousands more may need to leave their homes.
Around 4,000 residents from all five Chalcots towers were initially evacuated, but one of the five was deemed safe and residents allowed to return.
Evacuated residents faced chaos, with temporary accommodation offered in a local leisure centre and hotels, but some refused to move.
Camden Council leader Georgia Gould told BBC News that 83 residents had refused to leave, adding the situation “will become a matter for the fire service”.
Outside one of the leisure centres, evacuees accused the authorities of sowing “panic”.
“At 8:30pm (1930GMT) yesterday they told us: ‘you have to leave’, I don’t understand why,” Murtaza Taha, 27, told AFP.
“They made people panic. Inside (the centre), they are all afraid, they are all crying.
“They say they are going to find us a place to stay, they say for two to four weeks, but you never believe the council. If they say weeks, they mean months.”
Rosie Turner, 27, said she had initially refused to come because of concerns over her nine-week-old baby.
“There is nothing for him here, everyone is on top of each other,” she explained.
“They should have done it in a proper and organised way, we could have arranged to stay with our family,” she added.
“Today I’m gonna go back to my flat, I don’t care.”
– ‘Frightening’ –
Gould acknowledged it was “a scary time” but vowed “to make the residents stay safe.
“The cost we can deal with later,” she added, explaining that £500,000 had already been spent on hotel rooms for residents.
However, she explained that “there are various legal routes that Camden Council could explore” if people refuse to leave their homes.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday that the government would do “what is necessary” to ensure people have somewhere to stay, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said May needed to “get a grip” on the response.
Around 600 tower blocks are enclosed in potentially deadly cladding, with councils in Manchester, Portsmouth and London all announcing they were to immediately remove cladding from 13 structures.
On Friday, police said that manslaughter charges could be brought over the Grenfell inferno, after finding that the fire started with a faulty fridge and the building’s cladding had failed safety tests.
Fiona McCormack from the London police said that tiles and insulation on the outside of the building “don’t pass any safety tests.”
McCormack said police were investigating companies involved in the building and refurbishment of the tower, and possible “health and safety and fire safety offences”.
The cladding was installed on the 24-storey council-owned Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974, as part of a refurbishment completed last year.
– Toll may remain unknown –
McCormack said all “complete bodies” had been removed from the burnt-out tower and there was “a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat”.
She said officers had been through all levels of the tower but that the full forensic search could take until the end of the year.
Police fear the toll may rise higher because some residents may have been living in the tower illegally.
Around 72 firefighters were called to another blaze at a block of flats in east London on Saturday, forcing the evacuation of residents, but no casualties were reported.
May stressed on Thursday that all Grenfell victims, regardless of their immigration status, would be able to access whatever help they need.
“We will work with and support the emergency services and relevant authorities to safeguard the public,” she said.
Six men and three women killed in the Grenfell inferno have been formally identified.
They include Mohammad Alhajali, 23; Khadija Saye, 24; Abufars Ibrahim, 39; Khadija Khalloufi, 52; and Anthony Disson, 65, while the identities of three men and one woman have not been made public at the request of their families.
Nine patients remain in hospital, of which three are in a critical condition.
Meanwhile the government ordered immediate checks on the Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer model blamed for the blaze.