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Police: 79 presumed dead in London high-rise fire

TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

(LONDON) — At least 79 people are missing and presumed dead from the massive fire that engulfed a residential high-rise building in London earlier this week, police said on Saturday.

Police warned the number of fatalities may still rise.

Metropolitan Police Service Commander Stuart Cundy said on Saturday that authorities have formally identified one of the victims who died in the June 14 blaze as 23-year-old Mohammad Alhajali, a resident of the apartment building in the West London neighborhood of North Kensington.

“Mohammad was a very amazing and kind person. He gave love to everyone. He came to the U.K. because he had ambitions and aims for his life and for his family. Our whole family will miss Mohammad dearly and he will never be forgotten. To God we belong and to him we return,” Alhajali’s family said in a statement released by police.

Cundy said rescuers don’t expect to find any survivors inside the building.

Investigators believe the fire started at around 1 a.m. local time Wednesday on the fourth floor of the 24-story Grenfell Tower. The London Fire Brigade dispatched more than 200 firefighters, at least 40 fire engines and about 20 ambulance crews in an effort to battle the inferno.

It took nearly two hours to gain control of the conflagration, according to fire officials.

“This is an unprecedented incident,” London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters Wednesday night. “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything of this scale.”

The Metropolitan Police Service, which is leading the ongoing investigation, believes it has identified the origin of the fire, which so far does not appear to have been intentional. The exact cause of the fire is still unknown.

In addition to those killed, the blaze injured at least 74 people. As of Saturday afternoon, 19 remain hospitalized, with 10 in critical condition, according to police.

It’s unclear exactly how many residents were inside the building at the time. But the tower, built in 1974, contained 120 apartments, according to its management company, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization.

Cundy has said that the ongoing operation to recover and identify all victims is a complex process, and some may never be identified.

“The conditions inside Grenfell Tower mean that the search-and-recovery operation to find and recover the victims is extremely challenging. The upper floors of the block are particularly hazardous due to the damage caused by the fire. The sad reality is that this work will take some time, stretching into many, many weeks,” the police commander said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

“Sadly, the nature of injuries caused by such an intense fire will mean the identification process will take some time. But it would also be deeply distressing for families for us to release wrong information,” he added.

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