According to the BBC there are officially 58 dead with the count expected to rise. Looking at the burnt out shell you’d think it a miracle anyone got out alive and we know that many didn’t. The photo above was taken by Gloria Trevisan a 27-year-old Italian engaged to her partner Marco Gottardi also aged 27, they lived on the 23rd floor. They rang their parents to say goodbye trapped by raising flames and dense smoke, they knew there was no way to get out alive. (Source Daily Mirror photo via Instagram) My imagination fails me when I try to put myself in their the horror is too great. There is something iconic about that photograph with it’s rainbows and association to dreams and pots of gold. That was the view from the 23rd floor described in just one word “spectacular”. Those people would have been forever unknown to us but now we share their nightmare and personal tragedy.
On the ground residents describe the response as shambolic and chaotic. Today donations continue to flood in with nobody there to co-ordinate the action. One local volunteer has had enough and doesn’t believe she’s helping anybody because there’s too few left alive. In an emotional interview she asks “where are all the people I grew up with, I can’t find anybody…”. It is becoming clear that the MSM, whilst assiduously sticking with accepted protocols, are failing to ask the right questions. Is there a list of residents published yet? I haven’t seen one. I have seen posters on walls pleading for information on missing loved ones but no professional co-ordination of a missing and survivors list, nobody seems to have a clue what’s going on. No hospital has a list of Grenfell victims being treated or in the mortuary. Yes, we must not cause unnecessary alarm but the lack of official information is doing exactly that.
There will be no official list of all the people in that building, how could there be? The state of social housing has been neglected for decades so the neo-liberal market solution took over, overcrowding, slums and shanty towns. That building would have had many unofficial sub-lets and undocumented immigrants all seeking to make their fortune in a city whose streets are paved with gold. No doubt many of those, if they survived have fled, they had nothing left to go back for, we will never know all those stories. There will be those who wouldn’t want to hear them even if they were ever told. An unofficial number told to Lily Allen via Twitter is 370 dead which she says was told to her by an un-named council official. The official number of those now accounted for is 342 and police have received calls suggesting 400 are still missing.
The blame game is now in full swing with national government blaming the local councils and everyone hiding behind joint decisions and committees. Grenfell Tower had a £9 million refurbishment of which £200,000 was not found for a sprinkler system. Did you have any idea that it wasn’t illegal for high-rise buildings not to have a sprinkler system? I certainly didn’t and it still seems incredible to me. The money was clearly available but the cladding seemed to be the priority for its insulation properties and as locals insist, to prettify the building for the benefit of the richer residents. Other reports circulate about shoddy gas piping recently installed in the emergency stairways because it was the cheapest and fastest way to do it. There is a 12 minute interview here with a local resident describing the lack of access for emergency vehicles and the shoddy refurbishment here.
I am at this point trying to imagine approaching, say George Osborne, and asking for a fund-raiser to install a sprinkler system in a tower block full of people on the lowest rung of society. Would he have raised the corporations to donate and potentially save these lives or say that the money just wasn’t available? Clearly the money was available because the Evening Standard has raised £2.2 million after all those people have died. This is the terrible price of austerity and of those who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Kensington Council has £270 million in reserves but no money for fire sprinklers. The Chancellor Phillip Hammond says that sprinklers may not be the best way to prevent the spread of fire and we won’t know if they would have helped until the official investigation concludes.
The whole point to me is those lives lost were just not worth investing in, that social housing “just creates Labour voters” to quote Nick Clegg. Already the Ghouls are moving in to shift the terms of debate to their favoured cause. I will leave last words Piers Thompson via @Ash_housing on Twitter from architects who know their stuff.
Futher reading on the technical specs of the refurbishment in this excellent article by John Ward at The Slog.