At least 58 feared dead in London tower fire, May admits failings



At least 58 people are feared to have died in the fire that engulfed a London tower block this week, police said on Saturday, as Prime Minister Theresa May admitted that the response from the authorities had not been good enough.

With anger mounting over the government's handling of the blaze, May met residents from the Grenfell Tower and vowed to personally oversee the recovery as protesters gathered to demonstrate in the streets around her residence for a second day.

Weakened by a botched election gamble last week, May has been criticized for her muted response to the fire and had to be rushed away from a meeting with residents on Friday under heavy police guard as protesters shouted "Shame on you".

"The response of the emergency services, National Health Service, and the community has been heroic," May said in a statement.

"But, frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough."

London Police Commander Stuart Cundy said the toll of 58 represented those who were missing and presumed dead from a fire which ripped through the 24-storey social housing block as residents slept in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

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A man looks at a message wall near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, west London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
A man gestures as people write messages on a wall near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, west London, Britain June 15, 2017. . REUTERS/Paul Hackett TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Missing person signs are displayed close to Grenfell Tower block, which was destroyed in a fire,west London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
A woman writes on a message wall near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
People light candles at a prayer vigil outside Notting Hill Methodist Church close to the tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
People light candles at a prayer vigil outside Notting Hill Methodist Church close to the tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 15: A Girl prays as a minute's silence is observed, taken on June 15, 2017 in London, England. Local residents and well-wishers gather at a short vigil outside Notting Hill Methodist Church near the scene of the Grenfell Tower Fire Disaster in which so far seventeen people have been reported killed, with dozens injured, many still missing and scores of people rendered homeless. PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Davey / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Paul Davey / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 15: A woman is overcome with emotion - many local residents had friends and families in Grenfell Tower, taken on June 15, 2017 in London, England. Local residents and well-wishers gather at a short vigil outside Notting Hill Methodist Church near the scene of the Grenfell Tower Fire Disaster in which so far seventeen people have been reported killed, with dozens injured, many still missing and scores of people rendered homeless. PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Davey / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Paul Davey / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A child holds candles outside Notting hill Methodist Church following the blaze at Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London on June 15, 2017. Firefighters searched for bodies today in a London tower block gutted by a blaze that has already left 17 dead, as questions grew over whether a recent refurbishment contributed to the fire. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 15: A man writes a message 'babies thrown from buildings (why) in 2017', on June 15, 2017 in London, England. In the aftermath of a fire that raged through a residential tower block, Grenfell Tower, in Kensington, West London that has claimed twelve lives so far, with many more missing and left hundreds homeless and injured. PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Davey / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Paul Davey / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: People attend a vigil at Notting Hill Methodist Church near Grenfell Tower on June 15, 2017 in London, England. At least 17 people have been confirmed dead and dozens missing, after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14. The number of fatalities are expected to rise. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: Flowers are left on a fence near Grenfell Tower on June 15, 2017 in London, England. At least 17 people have been confirmed dead and dozens missing, after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14. The number of fatalities are expected to rise. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: Poster for missing people are seen on a wall near Grenfell Tower on June 15, 2017 in London, England. At least 17 people have been confirmed dead and dozens missing, after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14. The number of fatalities are expected to rise. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: Tributes and messages of condolence for the victims are seen on a wall near to the site of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 15, 2017 in London, England. At least 17 people have been confirmed dead and dozens missing, after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14. The number of fatalities are expected to rise. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan hugs a resident while visiting Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London which was gutted by a blaze on June 15, 2017. Firefighters searched for bodies today in a London tower block gutted by a blaze that has already left 17 dead, as questions grew over whether a recent refurbishment contributed to the fire. / AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Two women embrace after writing messages on the wall of condolence following the blaze at Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London on June 15, 2017. Firefighters searched for bodies today in a London tower block gutted by a blaze that has already left 12 dead, as questions grew over whether a recent refurbishment contributed to the fire. / AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 15: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hugs councillor Mushtaq Lasharie as he arrives at St Clement's Church in west London where volunteers have provided shelter and support for people affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower, on June 15, 2017 in West London, England. (Photo by David Mirzoeff - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: People write tributes and messages of condolences for the victims on a wall near to the site of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 15, 2017 in London, England. At least twelve people have been confirmed dead and dozens missing after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14. The number of fatalities are expected to rise. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Prays are said and candles are lit outside Notting Hill Methodist Church near the 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 Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 14: The Grenfell Tower catches up fire on June 14, 2017 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A woman lights a candle outside a church near a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
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"Sadly at this time, there are 58 people who we have been told were in Grenfell Tower on the night that are missing and therefore sadly I have to assume that they are dead," he said.

If the number is confirmed, it would make the Grenfell Tower blaze the deadliest in London since World War Two. The toll had previously been put at 30.

While the blaze has prompted an outpouring of generosity, with many people donating provisions and clothes, it has also unleashed rage at the authorities as the charred tower was cast as a deadly symbol of a deeply divided society.

On Friday angry protesters chanting "We want justice" stormed their way into the Kensington and Chelsea town hall to try to confront the leaders of the local council.

Residents of the destroyed tower said May was far too slow to visit the stricken community, that the building had been unsafe and that officials have failed to give enough information and support to those who have lost relatives and their homes.

ANGER IN LONDON

On Saturday May spent over two hours meeting residents from the north Kensington area at her Downing Street residence and chaired a meeting on the government's response to the fire.

She has promised to set up a public inquiry and pledged 5 million pounds ($6.39 million) of support, housing guarantees and help with access to bank accounts and cash. Those who lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks, she said.

"It has been decided today that the public inquiry will report back to me personally," May said. "As Prime Minister, I will be responsible for implementing its findings."

One of her closest allies, Damian Green, defended May, saying she was "distraught about what has happened".

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After the London fire
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After the London fire
People comfort each other after a prayer vigil outside Notting Hill Methodist Church close to the tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
Damage is seen to a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
People react near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Firefighters with a dog walk around the base of the Grenfell Tower block that was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
A woman attaches a placard on a wall near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Volunteers move pallets for supplies for people affected by the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Volunteers prepare supplies for people affected by the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
A drone flies near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A firefighter is cheered near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, west London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
A man gestures as people write messages on a wall near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, west London, Britain June 15, 2017. . REUTERS/Paul Hackett TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Local residents hang a banner over a balcony following the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
People react near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A woman holds a missing person posters near the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a fire in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
London Mayor Sadiq Khan listens to a woman at an event where he addressed a crowd of people near the scene of the fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Damage is seen to a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Messages are displayed near a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
A missing person notice in attached to a tree next to donated food near the scene of a fire disaster that destroyed a tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, speaks to police officers as she visits the scene of a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Damage is seen to a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Flowers are laid at the base of a message wall near a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Missing person posters are worn by people standing near a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Clothing is laid out on the pavement near a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
A woman is comforted as they stand near a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Water continues to be sprayed onto the tower block that was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
A fireman's ladder rests, amid the debris, against the tower block that was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Firefighters stand amid debris in a childrens playground near a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Food is distributed near a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
Food, drink and other supplies are stored near a tower block which was destroyed in a fire disaster, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Firefighters rest near a tower block, severely damaged in a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Smoke billows from a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
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"We're all desperately sad," said Green, who was appointed May's deputy in the wake of the general election. "We're all angry, but of course none of us as angry as those who were directly affected. I absolutely get why they're angry."

May was asked repeatedly in an interview on Friday whether she had misread the public mood. While failing to answer, she said the focus was now on providing support to the victims.

On Saturday more than 1,000 people gathered near May's Downing Street office to protest against her plan to form a government with the support of a socially conservative Northern Irish party.

One banner showed a drawing of May with the words "Shame" and "Disgrace".

"NOT A VIABLE PM"

After a turbulent three months which has seen Britain hit by three deadly Islamist militant attacks and now the tower blaze, the Queen said the mood was deeply sombre but that the British people were resolute in the face of adversity.

Having visited residents and volunteers near the tower on Friday with her grandson William, the queen also led a minute's silence in Buckingham Palace on Saturday.

"It is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood," Elizabeth said in a message on her official birthday. "The country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.

"Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity," Elizabeth said. "United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss."

Such a direct message from the monarch is rare and indicates the extent of the turmoil in Britain.

SEE ALSO: The Queen is heckled by distraught man as she visits London tower fire victims

Opponents said May's handling of the fire had thrust her position further into doubt by showing a failure to feel the public mood and act decisively.

Her failure to win a majority in an election she did not need to call had already sparked a tumultuous week and pitched Britain into its deepest political crisis since the Brexit referendum a year ago.

Britain is now likely to go into arduous talks on Monday about its exit from the European Union with a weakened leader who is dependent on Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to get legislation passed.

Matthew Parris, a columnist and former Conservative lawmaker, said May's response to the fire had shown a lack of judgement which made her unsuitable to be prime minister.

"Wallowing in the wash of a general election that stripped our prime minister of her authority on the very eve of EU negotiations, neither common sense nor the evidence suggest she can re-establish public confidence," Parris wrote in the Times.

"This prime minister is not viable."

(Additional reporting by Emily Roe; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Stephen Powell)

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