In the wake of the deadly Grenfell fire, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) diplomats in London say they have received confirmation that the United Kingdom (UK) government has conducted inspections of high-rise tower blocks around the country with a view to identifying any combustible cladding.
And while the results of the investigations are being processed, Barbados’ High Commissioner to the UK Guy Hewitt reported today a contingency plan was also being put in place to address any buildings that may be vulnerable to a similar catastrophe.
Officials say as many as 600 tower blocks could have combustible cladding similar to that used on the 220-foot (67 metre) high Grenfell residential Tower, which went up in flames last week Wednesday, claiming at least 79 lives.
With the official death toll likely to still rise, Hewitt had earlier this week joined with other CARICOM high commissioners in appealing to British authorities to inspect, as a matter of priority, the over 4,000 blocks in the country for fear that the lives of Barbadians and other West Indians who live in these high-rise buildings could be in danger.
However, so far no Caribbean nationals have been counted among the Grenfell victims, with regional officials today breathing a further sigh of relief, having been informed that subsequent inspections were carried out on similar high-rise towers.
The UK Government has also announced that North Kensington victims are to be rehoused as a priority in 68 one, two and three-bedroom flats that have been bought in the upmarket Kensington Row development in west London, where accommodation reportedly starts at £1.6 million (BDS$4.05 million).
Yesterday Prime Minister Theresa May also apologized in parliament for what she described as a “failure of the state” over the Grenfell disaster.
Speaking in the House of Commons as MPs debated the Queen’s Speech, the prime minister acknowledged there had been failures, “local and national”, in the hours immediately after the fire.
“Let me be absolutely clear. The support for the families on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough,” May said.
“People were left without belongings, without roofs over their heads, without even basic information about what had happened, what they should do and where they should go to seek help.
“That was a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most.” She added.
“As prime minister, I apologize for that failure. As prime minister I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right. That is why each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a down payment from the emergency fund so they can buy food, clothes and other essentials. And all those who have lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks,” she said, adding that the “whole country was heartbroken by the utter devastation” caused by the fire.
She also reiterated that there would be an independent inquiry, led by a judge, to determine what happened and who was responsible.
Those affected by the fire will have their legal costs paid, she added.
Amid harsh criticisms of the local government agency’s handling to the disaster, Nicholas Holgate, the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, has resigned.
Communities and local government minister Sajid Javid has also announced that inquests were opened into the deaths amid reports that cyanide gas released by burning insulation may have been a contributing factor. The manufacturer Celotex has also confirmed that the insulation would have released highly toxic substances if it caught fire.
“As High Commissioner I have been in touch with Barbadian residents in the vicinity of the Grenfell Tower who have been affected both by the loss of friends and loss of access by utility failures and road closures,” said Hewitt, whose office is preparing to mount, in conjunction with Barbadian associations and the local churches, an outreach programme to assist in the healing process.
Just yesterday, British producer Simon Cowell released a charity single in support the Grenfell Tower families, a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic hit Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The single, featuring a celebrity cast, including Rita Ora, James Blunt, Craig David, Pixie Lott, Emile Sande, Robbie Williams and the members of British boy band One Direction, went straight to number one on iTunes and is tipped to raise millions of pounds for the survivors.