After London fire, desperate pleas for missing residents

Family and friends of Grenfell Tower residents took to social media with appeals for help finding loved ones after the west London highrise caught fire Wednesday morning.

Artist Khadija Saye was reported missing by British Labour politician David Lammy. Her work is on display at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Lammy said in a Facebook post that Saye lives on the 20th floor with her mother.

“Khadija is the mentee and employee of my wife, a dear friend of our family, a beautiful soul and an outstanding emerging artist.”

The Italian Foreign Ministry said two Italians are missing. They are believed to be Marco Gottardi and his girlfriend, Gloria Trevisan, based on information from Gottardi’s cousin.

Pamela Pizziolo said on Facebook that Gottardi and Trevisan were in their apartment on the 23rd floor when the fire broke out.

Denis Murphy was reported missing by nephew Stevan Racz. Murphy, who lives on the 14th floor, last spoke to the family between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Wednesday, Racz said.

“He called us this morning to say the flats were on fire and he couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t get hold of him after,” said Murphy’s nephew, Stevan Racz.

He said his uncle, who is 54 years old, has lived in the building for more than 25 years.

“He is a much loved father, brother, son and uncle. [He’s a] friend to many in the area,” Racz said.

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Witnesses: ‘No warning’ in London building blaze

Michael Paramasivan was watching a film in bed in his Grenfell Tower apartment when he smelled something “plastic-y.”

“I heard shouting, ‘It’s getting bigger, it’s getting bigger!’,” he told CNN Wednesday.

By the time he had grabbed his daughter and ran down the stairs, Paramasivan said half the building was on fire and the other half was catching fast.

“If I’d fallen asleep, we would have all been dead … There weren’t no warning, there weren’t no proper noise to let us know what was happening. We lost everything. Everything in the house is gone,” he said.

Fire crews are still working after an enormous blaze which engulfed the Grenfell Tower building in East London in the early hours of Wednesday morning. There is no word on how many people are still inside but officials have confirmed there are “a number of fatalities.”

Many residents who evacuated said the fire had spread incredibly quickly with almost no warning.

Some people told CNN they didn’t even hear a fire alarm.

Neighbors woke to screams

Matt Kane, who lives in the building next to the Grenfell Tower, said he was woken by screams and sounds of people running.

“I got dressed, went downstairs and saw a neighbor. She said ‘fire’ and I thought it was the school across the road. I walked out and saw the tower on fire,” he said.

One local man, David Phippen, said he was woken by residents of Grenfell shouting for help, and saw the lights were still on in one side of the building while the other side was in flames.

“I thought there was a row going on,” he told CNN. “I came out to my back garden and saw (the fire). You could hear people screaming. Whoever is at the top of (the tower), I pray to god they got out.”

Some said the speed of the fire made them nervous about the state of their own buildings. Ubah Yusuf said she and her neighbors, who lived close to Grenfell, would ask their building manager about their own tower block.

“The fire started from the bottom, people on upper floors couldn’t get out. I’m worried about my building now,” she said. “I’m worried if a fire happens, who is going to help?”

Residents jumped from windows

Numerous witnesses described seeing people trapped inside their apartments; banging on windows, shining lasers and lights or calling for help.

Two women who watched the fire break out said they saw multiple people jump from the top floors of the tower to try to escape.

Samira Awil said she had seen multiple bodies, including children, covered in sheets outside Grenfell Tower where they had fallen. “Luckily for me, my little brothers and sister were safe in their beds, but people their age (were) dying,” she said.

“We literally watched a man burn to death in his flat,” her friend, Tamara Eastmond said. “We saw the flame enter his flat and (overcome) him.”

Another witness, Abdullah Barraq Mohidin, said the fire began as a small one “but no one left their houses.”

“I can’t believe that no one went inside to help them,” he said. “There was people trying to break their windows … a woman and a child waiting for people to help them for three hours. Three hours there shouting for help.”

Friends, relations caught in blaze

Local resident Ness Davis said a close friend of hers had been trapped inside in the building. “(When I called) all she said is, ‘It’s hot, it’s hot, it’s hot,” she told CNN.

When Davis attempted to contact her friend later on, she didn’t answer the phone.

Tales of heroism were already beginning to emerge Wednesday morning. Ayyube Asif told CNN his family lived on the 18th floor and as soon as he saw the flames from his own house, miles away, he ran toward the blaze.

Police wouldn’t let him through when he arrived but eventually he made his way inside.

“We brought them out and we held them in our arms, and the paramedics brought them to the hospital,” Asif said. “You can’t get away from a fire on the 18th floor, but God’s grace, they got away.”

“Seeing your little cousin in your hands and not breathing properly, it’s a mad thing,” he said.

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Several dead in London residential tower fire

A massive fire that tore through a 24-story apartment building in west London has claimed a number of lives, fire officials confirmed, as rescuers frantically worked to reach people believed still trapped.

Witnesses described people leaping from Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, and of trapped children banging on windows as the blaze took hold at around 1 a.m local time.

A website run by the “Grenfell Action Group” said residents of the tower had expressed concerns over the safety of the building, specifically pointing to fire risks. Fire chiefs said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze.

Latest developments

The fire is under control, but the the building is still smoldering. Authorities are trying to determine how many people are still trapped. At least 50 people have been taken to five London hospitals. 125 families live in the building, which also has a children’s nursery.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared the fire a “major incident.” Around 200 firefighters, 40 fire trucks and 20 ambulance crews were at the scene.

London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton there had been “a number of fatalities” but she could not confirm how many. “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never seen anything of this scale,” she said.

Leaping from windows

Two women who live nearby watched the fire break out said they saw people leap from the tower to save themselves.

“They literally just jumped … (they) must have thought, we’re not going to sit here and suffocate,” Samira Awil said, adding she had seen bodies of “kids, women, men” covered in sheets outside the building.

Tamara Eastmond said a lot of people appeared to be unaccounted for. “We literally watched a man burn to death in his flat,” she told CNN. “We saw the flames enter his flat and (overcome) him.”

Some witnesses told CNN residents were at first told to stay inside the building when the blaze broke out.

One woman said her friend inside for three hours and was told by police to wait and put towels down to block the doors. When no-one came to help, she decided to escape on her own, the woman said.

Another witness said a family friend was “stuck on the eighth floor with her 5-year-old daughter” until 5 a.m., almost four hours after the fire broke out.

Tia Abrahams, who lives close to the scene, got there before the fire brigade.

“There were people banging on windows screaming, crying out for help. There were even young children banging on the windows,” she told CNN, adding she could hear screams as the hours went by.

Other witnesses said they saw residents holding their children out of windows.

Michael Paramasivan said he was watching TV in the building as his girlfriend and daughter slept when he smelled burning plastic. Soon he saw the smoke and chaos.

“I grabbed my little girl and ran down the stairs,” he said. “Half of the building was ablaze by the time we got out. And it was just spreading like wildfire.”

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower is part of the sprawling Lancaster West Estate, an enclave of social housing in one of London’s most affluent boroughs.

The estate is managed by an agency on behalf of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The tower was built in the 1970s and recently subject to a $10.9 million redevelopment, according to property firm Rydon. The building was to undergo specific improvements to fire safety and ventilation works. The web page relating to the refurbishment works later appeared to have been wiped.

A boxing gym and a nursery are housed in the tower, according to a news release last year from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Before the renovation there were 120 apartments in the building.

Local councilor Robert Atkinson told CNN that the renovation works had modernized the building. “The building needed to be brought up to date with new kitchens and new heating systems,” he said, adding that safety certificates had been issued and the council had been “told it had all been brought up to date.”

Cladding had been added to the outside of the building, blamed by some residents for helping the fire to spread so quickly.

Investigation in its early stages

The blaze appears to be the worst in London since a 2009 fire in the city’s south killed six people, including three children.

It is not yet possible to confirm the cause of the fire, which spread throughout the building from lower floors, Fire brigade chief Cotton said.

She said the first fire trucks were on the scene within six minutes. “Crews wearing breathing apparatus … have been working in extremely challenging conditions,” she said.

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6 dead after blaze tears through west London residential tower

At least six people dead and dozens were injured after a massive fire rapidly tore through a 24-story apartment building in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, police said.

Fifty people were hospitalized and rescuers frantically worked through the morning to reach people believed still trapped in the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington.

Residents had reported concerns about fire safety in recent years. Witnesses said no fire alarm was sounded.

Latest developments

— Residents say they were told to stay in their apartments. — The fire is under control, but the the building is still smoldering. — Authorities are trying to determine how many people are still trapped. — 125 families live in the building, which also has a children’s nursery.

Witnesses described people leaping from the building and of trapped children banging on windows as the blaze took hold at around 1 a.m. local time.

A website run by the “Grenfell Action Group” said residents of the tower had expressed concerns over the safety of the building, specifically pointing to fire risks. Fire chiefs said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared the fire a “major incident.” Around 200 firefighters, 40 fire trucks and 20 ambulance crews were at the scene.

“I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days. Many others are receiving medical care,” London Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said.

Leaping from windows

According to witness accounts, some residents were told to stay inside their apartments as the fire raged.

One woman said her friend inside for three hours and was told by police to wait and put towels down to block the doors. When no one came to help, she decided to escape on her own, the woman said.

Another witness said a family friend was “stuck on the eighth floor with her 5-year-old daughter” until 5 a.m., almost four hours after the fire broke out.

Turufat Yilma, who managed to escape, told CNN there was “no fire alarm at all.” She only learned of the fire when a neighbor called her.

Two women who live nearby watched the blaze break out described the horror of seeing people leap from the tower to save themselves.

“They literally just jumped … (they) must have thought, we’re not going to sit here and suffocate,” Samira Awil said, adding she had seen bodies of “kids, women, men” covered in sheets outside the building.

Tamara Eastmond said a lot of people appeared to be unaccounted for. “We literally watched a man burn to death in his flat,” she told CNN. “We saw the flames enter his flat and (overcome) him.”

Tia Abrahams, who lives close to the scene, got there before the fire service.

“There were people banging on windows screaming, crying out for help. There were even young children banging on the windows,” she told CNN, adding she could hear screams as the hours went by.

Other witnesses said they saw residents holding their children out of windows.

Michael Paramasivan said he was watching TV in the building as his girlfriend and daughter slept when he smelled burning plastic. Soon he saw the smoke and chaos.

“I grabbed my little girl and ran down the stairs,” he said. “Half of the building was ablaze by the time we got out. And it was just spreading like wildfire.”

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower is part of the sprawling Lancaster West Estate, an enclave of social housing managed by a private agency on behalf of the London Borough of Kensignton and Chelsea. While the borough is one of the most affluent in London, North Kensington is a particularly deprived district.

The tower was built in the 1970s and recently subject to a $10.9 million redevelopment, according to property firm Rydon. The building was to undergo specific improvements to fire safety and ventilation works. The web page detailing the refurbishment was unavailable for a time on Wednesday.

A boxing gym and a nursery are housed in the tower, according to a news release last year from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Before the renovation there were 120 apartments in the building.

Local councilor Robert Atkinson told CNN that the renovation works had modernized the building. “The building needed to be brought up to date with new kitchens and new heating systems,” he said, adding that safety certificates had been issued and the council had been “told it had all been brought up to date.”

Cladding had been added to the outside of the building, blamed by some residents for helping the fire to spread so quickly.

Investigation in ‘early stages’

The blaze appears to be the worst in London since a 2009 fire in the city’s south killed six people, including three children.

It was not yet possible to confirm the cause of the fire, which spread throughout the building from lower floors, London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton said.

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never seen anything of this scale,” she said.

She said the first fire trucks were on the scene within six minutes. “Crews wearing breathing apparatus … have been working in extremely challenging conditions,” she said.

Khan, the mayor, said that safety concerns and questions raised by the tenants will “need to be answered”. He told the BBC that a situation where “people’s safety is put at risk by bad advice or poor maintenance” could not be tolerated.

Asked about reports that residents had been told to stay in their apartments in the event of fire, he said: “Thankfully residents didn’t stay in their flats and fled to safety.”

Khan who described the incident as “distressing,” also praised the quick response from the emergency services.

“We declared a major incident very early, which meant not just the fire service but also the London Ambulance Service, the police and the others were involved at the scene”, Khan said.

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Sears Canada warns it’s running out of cash, may close

Sears Canada warned Tuesday that it’s running out of cash and could soon go out of business if it doesn’t find a financial lifeline.

The company, which has more than 200 stores and about 17,000 employees, posted a 15% drop in sales in the most recent quarter Tuesday, and a net loss of 144 million Canadian dollars. Sears Canada was spun off as a separate company from its former U.S. parent, Sears Holdings in 2012.

What’s more dire is Sears Canada’s warning about its cash position and its future. In last quarter alone it burned through about 30% of its cash and maxed out its existing credit lines.

“Cash flows from operations are not expected to be sufficient to meet obligations coming due over the next 12 months,” the company warned. It had expected to be able to borrow another C$175 million, but could only secure C$109 million.

“Such conditions raise significant doubt as to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” it said.

In March, Sears Holdings issued a similar warning about there being “substantial doubt” it could stay in business. But that warning, as serious as it was, did not paint the dire picture of a company running out of cash in the near term.

Sears Canada said it is considering a financial restructuring or a sale of the company. It also canceled its annual meeting, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

Sears Canada hasn’t posted an annual profit since 2013. It has been struggling to deal with not the shift to online shopping, as well as problems caused by the strengthening U.S. dollar, which makes most of the goods it sells more expensive for Canadian shoppers.

While Sears Canada is now a separate company, its bad news will hurt Sears Holdings, which owns 12% of its shares. Sears Holdings CEO and principal shareholder Eddie Lampert owns 45% of Sears Canada both personally and through his hedge fund. Shares of Sears Canada plunged 16% in U.S. trading on the warning.

Also on Monday, Sears in the U.S. said it will cut 400 management and support jobs, mostly at the company’s suburban Chicago headquarters, in an effort to cut $1.25 billion in annual costs. It’s also shutting 66 additional stores — 49 under the Kmart brand and 17 Sears. The company already closed 150 stores earlier this year, in addition to 92 Kmart pharmacy operations and 50 Sears Auto locations.

Sears has been closing stores and slashing costs for years, but hasn’t managed to stem the flow of red ink. It lost $2.2 billion in the fiscal year ending in January and has not turned an annual profit since 2010. Its losses since then total $10.4 billion.

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