UK royals honor London tower fire victims as anger boils over

UK royals honor London tower fire victims as anger boils over

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II travels in a horse-drawn carriage past Buckingham Palace on her way to Horse Guards Parade for the Queen’s Birthday Parade in London on Saturday. — AFP

LONDON — A solemn Queen Elizabeth II marked a minute of silence on Saturday for victims of the London high-rise inferno that killed at least 30 people as exhausted firefighters continued their grim search for more bodies. Public anger was mounting as residents and neighbors demanded answers for how the blaze spread so quickly amid reports that contractors installed a cheaper, less flame-resistant type of exterior paneling in a renovation of the Grenfell Tower that ended in May 2016. Around 70 people are missing, according to Britain’s Press Association, and identification of the victims is proving very difficult. British health authorities say that 19 patients are still being treated at four London hospitals. Of those, 10 remain in critical condition. The queen marked her official birthday on Saturday by saying Britain remains “resolute in the face of adversity” after the horrendous fire and recent extremist attacks in London and Manchester. The 91-year-old monarch said it is “difficult to escape a very somber mood” on what is normally a day of celebration. The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, stood silently on the steps of Buckingham Palace before the start of the Trooping the Color that each year marks the queen’s official birthday, which is traditionally celebrated in June when the weather is warm. There is simmering anger in the multiethnic Kensington area hit by the blaze, and public fury has been directed at senior government figures, including Prime Minister Theresa May, when they visited the stricken area. Rescue personnel have had difficulty reaching the top floors of the charred, 24-story tower. Officials warn that no further survivors are likely to be found. Hundreds have been left homeless by the blaze, putting more pressure on officials in a city already plagued by a chronic housing shortage. The government has promised a full public inquiry, but that has done little to a sense of frustration at the lack of information about how the fire moved so quickly to engulf the building. Engineering experts and fire safety specialists believe the building’s exterior cladding may have quickly fueled the blaze, overwhelming fire protection devices. British officials have ordered a review of other buildings that have had similar renovations. The horrific fire early Wednesday morning has put increased pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May and her senior ministers at a time when her authority has been weakened by an election that saw her Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament. May was jeered after she made a visit to the community on Friday. The tragedy has provoked a gigantic response from nearby communities that have donated food and shelter to the victim. More than 3 million pounds ($3.8 million) has been raised for the victims, and the British government has announced a 5 million-pound ($6.3 million) emergency fund. Many of the displaced are living in churches and community centers. There is ample food and water, but very little privacy or proper bedding. Scuffles broke out near the Kensington and Chelsea town hall offices on Friday as demonstrators chanting “We want justice!” surged toward the doors. Some residents had warned months ago that the tower represented a dangerous fire risk. They say their complaints were ignored. — AP