A desperate mother threw her baby to safety as a massive fire ripped through a West London residential apartment block on Wednesday, witnesses say.
Twelve people died in the inferno that engulfed the at least 20-story Grenfell Tower on the edge of London’s affluent Notting Hill neighborhood, police said. Authorities said they expect the death toll to rise, according to CNN.
Witnesses reported seeing people jump from the blazing tower and a woman reportedly tossed her child out of a window on the ninth or 10th floor to safety, the Associated Press reports.
“A woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby,” Samira Lamrani told the AP. “Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby.”
Witness Mahad Egal spoke through tears as he described the scene to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire.
“This was really horrific,” he said. “There’s a man who threw two of his children.”
Fire officials received reports of the blaze just before 1 a.m. local time and flames could be seen more than 10 hours after London Fire Brigade officials arrived, according to the AP.
The cause of the fire has not yet been reported, but according to the AP, residents have said that they repeatedly warned building officials about a potential fire threat.
Residents at the tower frantically woke sleeping neighbors as the fire spread and local churches offered the displaced residents a place to stay.
Just before noon local time, officials announced that 64 people had been taken to six hospitals across the city — another 10 people went to the hospital on their own. Twenty victims were in critical care, officials said in the statement.
Resident Paul Menacer told the BBC that he was in his seventh-floor apartment at around 2 a.m. but didn’t hear the fire alarm go off.
“It was only by the sound of people screaming ‘Don’t jump, don’t jump off the building’ which I was assuming people must have been doing – that was the only reason why I woke up,” he said.
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“Basically, what actually happened was I looked out of the window and I saw loads of people running away saying ‘don’t jump, go down the fire escape.’ “
Menacer took off his t-shirt and covered his face and managed to get out.
“There were a lot of people left in there. I did see a firefighter helping a very disabled woman down the stairs to safety,” he said.
It appeared that the fire was extinguished early Wednesday but it was ablaze again by 11.15 a.m.
Fire chiefs said a structural engineer was monitoring the building for safety amid fears that it could collapse.