At least 79 people now presumed dead in London tower fire

Posted at 6:56 AM, Jun 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-19 06:56:33-04

LONDON — At least 79 people are dead or missing and presumed dead following the fire that tore through the 24-story Grenfell Tower in London, police have said.

Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy told a press conference Monday that only five victims have been formally identified so far, and the death toll may change.

“Sadly for many families they have lost more than one family member,” said Cundy, who added that the “painstaking” search and recovery operation is proceeding as quickly as possible, but may take “many many weeks.”

Cundy explained that one of the reasons identification has been so difficult is because dental records are needed from victims who hailed from different countries around the world.

However, five people who were originally reported as missing have since been found safe and well.

Nothing could have prepared me

The police chief, who went inside the charred shell of the high-rise tower over the weekend, told reporters: “I’ve investigated major crime for most of my service and I’ve seen some terrible things but I don’t think anything prepared me for what I was going to see when I was in there.”

The government has promised a public inquiry, and police have opened a criminal inquiry.

Cundy said the “complex” and “exhaustive” investigation will focus on a range of issues including how the building was constructed, a recent refurbishment of it, how it is managed and maintained and fire safety measures.

Speculation has focused on the role that cladding apparently used in a recent refurbishment of the tower may have played in the fire.

Authorities have also faced questions about why the block, built in the 1970s and home to 125 families, was never fitted with a sprinkler system that might have saved lives.

“I would like to reassure everybody that we will be looking at all criminal offenses that may have been committed by any individual or any organization,” said Cundy.

Britain remembers victims

Britain observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m. Monday in remembrance of the victims. It was joined by firefighters from stations across the country.

A vigil is due to be held in Parliament Square in central London Monday evening.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a fund of £5 million ($6.4 million) to help those affected by the blaze.

CNN’s Barbara Arvanitidis contributed to this report.