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London fire toll expected to rise

At least 28 people still missing, presumed dead, police say

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Photographs by AP/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH

Posters of missing people cover a sign Saturday near the site of the Grenfell Tower fire in London.

LONDON -- London police on Saturday raised to 58 the number of deaths either confirmed or presumed after the inferno that turned the city's Grenfell Tower public housing block into a charred hulk.

The charred remains of Grenfell Tower are seen Saturday.

Public anger is mounting as residents and neighbors demand answers for how the blaze early Wednesday spread so quickly and trapped so many of the tower's approximately 600 residents. British media have reported that contractors installed a cheaper, less flame-resistant type of exterior paneling on the 24-story tower in a renovation that was completed last year.

Police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said the number of 58 is based on reports from the public and may rise. In addition to 30 confirmed fatalities, 28 people are missing and presumed dead, Cundy said. He said it will take weeks or longer to recover and identify all the dead at the building.

"Sadly, at this time there are 58 people who we have been told were in the Grenfell Tower on the night that are missing. And therefore, sadly, I have to assume that they are dead," he said.

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Photos by The Associated Press

He said police would consider criminal prosecutions if there is evidence of wrongdoing and that the police investigation would include scrutiny of the renovation project at the tower, which experts believe may have left the building more vulnerable to a catastrophic blaze.

Police have been struggling to come up with an authoritative list of who was in the building when the fire started, making it difficult to determine how many had died.

Cundy said there may have been other people in the tower who police are not aware of, and that could increase the death toll. He asked anyone who was in the tower and survived to contact police immediately.

Police said the search for remains had paused Friday because of safety concerns at the blackened tower but had resumed Saturday. Cundy said emergency workers had reached the top of the building.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, facing criticism for the government's handling of the disaster, met Saturday with 15 fire survivors invited to her official residence at 10 Downing St. The group left after a meeting that lasted more than two hours but did not speak to reporters gathered outside.

The meeting comes after complaints that May has been slow to reach out to fire survivors, despite her announcement of a $6.4 million emergency fund to help the displaced families.

May said after the meeting Saturday that there have been "huge frustrations" in the community as people tried to get information.

"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," she said in a statement.

She also chaired a meeting of the government's task force dealing with the disaster, the BBC reported.

"If more funding is required, it will be provided," May said in the statement. "My government will do whatever it takes to help those affected get justice, and keep our people safe." She praised emergency workers, the National Health Service and the community, calling their responses "heroic."

The identification of the victims is proving very difficult -- which experts attribute to the extreme heat of the fire. British health authorities said 19 fire survivors were still being treated at London hospitals, and 10 of them remained in critical condition.

Police said they are using the Interpol Disaster Victim Identification Standards to identify the deceased. This relies on dental records, fingerprints and DNA when possible, and also features like tattoos or scars.

The tragedy cast a pall on the Trooping the Color festivities that mark the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. A solemn Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, held a minute of silence for the fire victims at the start of the procession Saturday.

The 91-year-old monarch said in a statement that Britain remains "resolute in the face of adversity" after the horrendous fire and recent extremist attacks in London and Manchester. The queen said it was "difficult to escape a very somber mood" on what is normally a day of celebration.

"United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favor, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss," she said in the statement.

"In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies," she said. "During recent visits in Manchester and London, I have been profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need."

There is simmering anger in the multiethnic north Kensington area hit by the blaze, and public fury has been directed at senior government figures, including May, who was jeered Friday after she visited. Hundreds have been left homeless, putting more pressure on officials in a city plagued by a chronic housing shortage.

The government has promised a full public inquiry, but that has done little to ease a sense of frustration at the lack of information about how the fire moved so quickly to engulf the building.

The area around the charred remains of Grenfell Tower was subdued on Saturday. Dozens of people gathered Friday outside Latymer Community Church, with hundreds of messages covering the wall. Two women cried silently by the police-blocked gate to the tower estate itself, gazing up at the blackened wreck.

On Friday evening, hundreds of people marched from Kensington town hall toward the gutted tower. There also were indications that political groups had joined protests that spread beyond those immediately affected by the fire, with some people brandishing Socialist Worker Party placards

The tragedy has provoked a huge response from nearby communities. More than $3.8 million has been raised for the victims. Many of the displaced are living in churches and community centers. There is ample food and water but very little privacy or proper bedding, and with the tower destroyed, no one knows where they will be relocated or for how long.

Two nearby Underground subway lines were partially shut down Saturday in the fire area to make sure that debris from the tower did not land on the tracks.

Information for this article was contributed by Gregory Katz of the Associated Press; and by Thomas Seal, Jeremy Hodges and staff members of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 06/18/2017

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