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Anger, grief as Britain marks Grenfell fire anniversary

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Anger and impatience for justice mixed with raw grief as Britain prepares to mark the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster — the deadliest domestic fire since World War II.

In a west London community still traumatised by the apartment block blaze that killed 71 people, many voiced frustration with politicians and the fire brigade ahead of Thursday's commemorations.

"I don't understand why as a country we're not in uproar, why we're not absolutely telling the government that things need to change now," said Tasha Brade, a local resident and campaigner with Justice4Grenfell, a support group for survivors.

Campaigners want some arrests from an ongoing investigation, as well as a ban on the cladding that helped spread the blaze.

They have criticised the fire brigade's "stay put" policy for tower residents, which was only lifted after two hours.

The slow effort to re-house people has added to the anger, with 43 of the 203 households displaced still living in hotels.

"People who were affected did not receive the services they needed with respect to their health and well-being," said Vassiliki Stavrou-Lorraine, who has lived opposite the tower for 34 years.

"Unfortunately one year on we are still having this situation," she added, saying people are suffering from "depression and post-traumatic stress disorder".

Relatives of those who died have recently provided heart-rending testimony about their loved ones' final moments at the beginning of a public inquiry into the fire, reminding Britons of the shocking scale of the tragedy.

The fire, which broke out in the kitchen of a fourth-floor flat in the 24-storey tower in the early hours of June 14 last year, spread swiftly up the building.

Seventy-one people lost their lives, and a woman in the building later suffered a stillbirth blamed on the inferno.

The concrete block built in 1974 had undergone renovation between 2014 and 2016, when it was wrapped in a new cladding.

The material had not been tested in fire conditions and did not comply with building-safety guidance, according to an expert's report commissioned by the inquiry.

But the London Fire Brigade told residents to "stay put" — standard procedure in high-rise fires — for nearly two hours, despite the fire reaching the roof within around half an hour.

The policy has been severely criticised by relatives of those who died.

"The fact is, our relatives are being remembered now because they were left to die," Karim Mussilhy, whose deceased uncle lived on the top floor of the Grenfell Tower, wrote last month in the Guardian.

Kerry O'Hara, a survivor from the sixth floor, told AFP: "I was glad that I didn't follow that advice and I just hate to think what would've happened if I'd stayed put."

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