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Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno

Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke engulf Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that started in the early hours of the morning. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks out from his balcony towards Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that started in falts in the early hours of the morning. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Flames continue to burn after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Leon Neal/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Fire fighters use a riot shield as protection from falling rubble at the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze, while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Leon Neal/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Smoke rises from the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least six are dead and 20 are in critical care. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Fire Brigade walk near Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that started in flats in the early hours of the morning. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
People unload water and supplies onto tables near to a temporary relief centre, set up for people affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that started in the flats in the early hours of the morning. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke engulf Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that started in the early hours of the morning. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
People wearing surgical masks walk near to Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that started in the flats in the early hours of the morning. At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Fire fighters gather near the burning 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images
Leon Neal/Getty Images
Smoke and flames billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a blaze at a residential block of flats on June 14, 2017 in west London.
At least six people were killed Wednesday when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: A woman prepares clothes at a stall which has been set up to help people near the burning 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Carl Court/Getty Images


They banged on windows, screamed for help, dropped children from smoky floors in a desperate attempt to save them. Terrified residents of the Grenfell Tower said there was little warning of the inferno that engulfed their high-rise apartment building and left 12 people dead — a toll that officials said would almost certainly rise.

The blaze early Wednesday in the 24-story building in west London's North Kensington district also injured 74 others, 18 of them critically, and left an unknown number missing. A tenants' group had complained for years about the risk of a fire.

More than 200 firefighters worked through the night and were still finding pockets of fire inside later in the day. A huge plume of smoke wafted across the London skyline and left a burned-out hulk in the working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood.

"In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything of this scale," Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said.

Up to 600 people lived in 120 apartments in the Grenfell Tower. After announcing the updated death toll of 12 in the afternoon, Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said that "we believe this number will sadly increase."

Crews rescued 65 people, said Steve Apter, the fire brigade's director of safety and assurance.

Prime Minister Theresa May's office said she was "deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life" in the fire.

"My thoughts are with the victims, their families and all of those who had their homes destroyed," she said. "It's impossible to comprehend the horror of what they've been going through."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment blocks around the British capital.

The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12:54 a.m. and the first engines arrived within six minutes.

Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape during the nighttime fire. Some initially feared it was terrorism-related, although authorities have not suggested that terrorism was involved.

"The flames, I have never seen anything like it. It just reminded me of 9/11," said Muna Ali, 45. "The fire started on the upper floors. ... Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly. It had completely spread within half an hour."

Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman drop a baby from a window on the ninth or 10th floor to people on the sidewalk.

"People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming," Lamrani told Britain's Press Association news agency.

When the woman indicated she was going to drop the infant, "a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby," she added.

Joe Walsh, 58, said he saw someone toss two children out a window on the fifth or sixth floor. Tiago Etienne, 17, said he saw about three children between the ages of 4 and 8 being dropped from around the 15th floor. There was no word on their fate.

Other residents told harrowing tales of their own escapes and frustration at not being able to help neighbors.

Ruks Mamudu, 69, said she ran to safety down one flight of stairs to the ground floor from her apartment wearing only her purple pajamas and bathrobe. She and her grandson sat outside the building, helplessly watching those trapped on higher floors.

"I sat there watching my house burn down and watching people cry for help who couldn't come down," Mamudu said.

Nassima Boutrig, who lives across from the building, said she was awakened by sirens and smoke so thick that it filled her home as well.

"We saw the people screaming," she said. "A lot of people said, 'Help! Help! Help!' The fire brigade could only help downstairs. ... They couldn't stop the fire."

Resident Hamid Wahbi said that as he fled, he asked about a neighbor's father but was told he was still inside.

"We tried to go back, but it was all black, so I had to come out of the building," Wahbi added.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but the Grenfell Action Group has been warning about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013.

Edward Daffarn, who lived on the 16th floor, said the building's fire alarm didn't ring. He said residents had complained for years to Kensington and Chelsea Council about the building's safety, to no avail.

"I'm lucky to be alive. A neighbor's smoke alarm went off and another neighbor phoned and told me to get out," Daffarn said. "I consider this mass murder."

The Action Group expressed concern about the testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site. In a Nov. 20 blog, the group predicted that only "a catastrophic event" leading to "serious loss of life" would bring the outside scrutiny needed to make conditions safe for residents.

"All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable," the group said after the fire broke out.

The Kensington and Chelsea Council, which oversees the area where the fire occurred, said in a statement its immediate focus was helping victims and their families. It said the cause of the blaze would be "fully investigated."

Built in the 1970s, the housing block was recently upgraded at a cost of 10 million pounds ($12.8 million), with work finishing in May 2016, according to the local council. Rydon, the British company that did the refurbishing, said in a statement that its work "met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards."

Britain's government ordered checks at tower blocks going through similar refurbishment amid concerns that renovations at the Grenfell Tower contributed to the spread of the blaze. It was not immediately known if the building had a sprinkler system.

Authorities will "seek to identify towers that might have a similar process of refurbishment, run a system of checks so that we can, as quickly as possible, give reassurance to people," said Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd.

The Grenfell tenants' organization's newsletter instructs residents to stay put in a fire unless the blaze is in their own apartment or in their hallway — the same guidance used in multistory hotels and other high-rise buildings. The organization's July 2014 newsletter said Grenfell "was designed according to rigorous fire safety standards."

Neighbors began helping survivors with clothing, food and water as well as offering shelter.

Churches and a nearby mosque served as gathering points for donations for those who raced out of the burning building with little else than what they were wearing. Social media sites joined the effort, with some Londoners offering a space on their sofas for those affected by the blaze.

This story has been updated.