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3Novices:Entire families still missing after London tower block fire

LONDON / British prime minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the high-rise apartment blaze that killed at least 17 people in London amid growing public anxiety about whether similar blazes could occur in other housing blocks around the country.

Fire safety engineers were stunned at the pace with which flames tore through the 120-apartment Grenfell Tower in the early hours of Wednesday when most of the 600 residents were asleep. Senior fire officials described the progression of the fire, which engulfed the 24-storey building in less than an hour, as unprecedented.

"We need to know what happened," Mrs May said. "We need an explanation. We owe that to the families, to the people who have lost loved ones and the homes in which they lived."

London firefighters, many traumatised by the devastation, worked through Thursday to make the building safe so they could continue searching for more victims. Entire families are still missing, and the death toll is certain to rise. There is still no exact count of the missing.

In addition, 74 people were injured in the blaze, with 37 hospitalised and 17 of them still in critical condition. None of the 17 fatalities has been identified so far.

Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said it would be a "miracle" if anyone else were to be found alive.

The fire brigade is working with structural engineers to shore up the building so they can safely conduct a "fingertip search" of the entire structure, Ms Cotton [NB Dany Cotton is a WOMAN] said. Specialist dogs will also be brought in to help the search.

More stories of residents' desperation during the catastrophe emerged.

Firefighters trying to race into the building were protected from falling debris by police officers, who placed riot shields over their heads. One woman threw a baby out the window to escape the flames. Others tossed small children. Some adults jumped.

More than 200 firefighters worked through the night at the public housing block. .

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and authorities refuse to speculate on what could have started the blaze. But a tenants' group had complained for years about the risk of a fire in the building. and the focus has turned to renovations completed last year, which included installing insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system. Fire experts say the investigators will need to look at what materials were used and who approved their use.

Among the missing are a six-month-old baby girl and her parents and an Italian couple. Rkia Hamdan said his daughter Farah Hamdan, her husband Omar Belkadi and their six-month-old daughter were still unaccounted for.

"We've been to all the hospitals and we've been searching all day but we still haven't found them," he said.

Tony Disson, 65, and a great-grandfather made a series of phone calls from his flat, saying he was trapped in his bathroom. But his phone stopped responding around 4.00am after he told a friend to "tell my sons I love them".

Jessica Urbano, 12, has not been traced since talking to her aunt Sandra Ruiz at around 1.40am.

"She was with a group of people in the fire escape, in the fire stairs, they live on the 20th floor," said Ms Ruiz. "She would have been in her bed clothes and she will be very, very, very scared. We're just desperate to find her."

Italian couple Marco Gottardi, 27, and Gloria Trevisan, 27, are also missing. The couple, both architects, moved to London only three months ago. They lived on the 23rd floor

Sheila Smith, 84, is the oldest of those to be declared missing so far. She lived on the 16th floor.

More than 1 million pounds ($1.27 million) has been raised to help victims of the tragedy as volunteers and charities worked through the night to find shelter, food and clothes for people who had lost everything.

St. Clement's Notting Dale, a church near the tower, has turned into an informal centre for people searching for friends and family.

Laminated signs bearing missing peoples' phone numbers are tied to the fence next to notices from happier times advertising the Summer Fete with its barbecue, children's games and giant slide.

Community centres in London have been overwhelmed by the number of donations flooding in for those left homeless. So much food, clothing, shoes and other items have been coming in that the centres, churches and mosques have had to start turning away new donations.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
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