London tower blaze death toll spikes to 79

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 18, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Neil Hall

LONDON - The number of people who were dead or missing following the devastating blaze in a London tower block last week sharply increased to 79 on Monday, as Britain held a minute's silence for the victims.

"As of this morning, I'm afraid to say there are now 79 people that we believe are either dead or missing and I sadly have to presume are dead," police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

Police had earlier put the toll at 58 presumed dead.

Cundy said only five people had been formally identified so far by police, after officers earlier warned that some may never be identified due to the condition of the remains.

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He explained the search and recovery operation was ongoing in the burnt-out 24-storey block of council flats.

"This is an incredibly distressing time for families and they have my commitment that we will do this as quickly as we possibly can," he said.

Cundy promised an "exhaustive" criminal investigation into the fire that would also look at a major refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower building completed last year.

"We will go where the evidence may take us," and do everything possible "to ensure that those responsible will be brought to justice," he said.

"If I identify... an issue that is a risk to public safety, we will be sharing that immediately with the relevant authorities," he added.

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Cundy warned that the toll of 79 people could again change.

"I believe there may be people who were in Grenfell Tower that people may not know were missing and may not have realised they were in there on the night.

"Equally, there may be people who thankfully may have managed to escape the fire and for whatever reason have not let their family or friends or police know," he said.


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