Smoke billows from Grenfell Tower in London as firefighters try to control the huge blaze on Wednesday. The massive fire ripped through the 24-storey apartment block in the early hours of Wednesday. (AFP)
Minnie Sircar, a social work consultant, lives around three streets away from Grenfell Tower, in North Kensington. She was witness to the towering inferno and its aftermath from close quarters through Wednesday. The Loreto House (Calcutta) girl has been living in London for close to 12 years and in north Kensington for the past nine years. Sircar spoke to Anasuya Basu of The Telegraph .
I live on North Pole Road, about three streets away from Grenfell Tower, which is a council estate. I was woken up in the morning by a text message from a friend who was enquiring if I was safe. I quickly called another friend who lives nearby. I thought in panic it was her building which was on fire but thankfully it was not.
I went down at eight in the morning to catch the tube from Latimer Road station to work. Not only was the station closed but the traffic around was grid-locked. There was thick smoke covering the skyline and helicopters were flying above. I went back into my house. Around 11.40am I went with a bag of clothes and toiletries to distribute to the victims. Soft flames were still jumping inside the tower.
Many people were around, distributing whatever they had at home. There were lots of people on bicycles with bags of clothes, bedding, food. There were trucks with water. A lot of support.
The local shops too are helping out. I went to the pharmacy to get some things for the victims. They sent a pack of toothpastes and toothbrushes with me to distribute.
Several community centres have opened up to help the people. I went to the Latimer Community Centre and the Maxilla Community Centre and gave my stuff to them. Churches have opened up their halls, so have the mosques. Everyone is trying to help. Friends are calling up to offer rooms in their houses for shelter.
Grenfell Tower is in west London, a congested residential area. People there were saying a refrigerator had burst on the fourth floor and the resultant fire spread from the fourth floor to the 24th in just nine minutes.
They are saying that the block was refurbished last year. They used some material for insulation, re-did the central heating and double-glazed the windows to retain heat during the winter. The insulation material was highly inflammable and that caused the fire to spread so rapidly, some neighbours said.
Grenfell Tower is a social housing with a mix of working class people, and is surrounded by affluent neighbourhoods. On one side, there is Notting Hill and High Kensington Road with its picturesque houses and the Portobello Road with its famous Saturday market, and on another it is close to the Shepherd Bush station and the Westfield Shopping Centre.
The tower, apparently built in the 1970s, had mostly council tenants, who have lived there for generations.
It is a mix of white and African Caribbean residents. Apparently, the residents had raised concerns about the insulation materials being used.
In these council estates, the heating is run by the government, which turns it on in October and turns it off in spring no matter what the temperature is.
The houses here have a high risk of fire, what with carpeting, timber and all. The tower should have had fire alarms inside the rooms and in the common areas, but residents often disable the fire alarms inside the rooms. Life here has changed overnight. Everyone is sombre and worried. There is nervousness among the people. Anything could happen, anytime.