Death toll climbs to 58 in London apartment tower fire

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May said support for families in the initial aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster “was not good enough” hours after she met Saturday with some local residents at 10 Downing Street.

May, who spent 2 1/2 hours with the group, said members of the community faced “huge frustrations” as they sought information from authorities about the deadly blaze in London’s North Kensington.

According to police, 58 people are missing and presumed dead in the fire, though they say this number could change. At the moment, police said 16 bodies have been recovered.

Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy later clarified that 30 people had been confirmed dead, while another 28 remain missing and are presumed dead.

In a statement Saturday, May said her government would do “whatever it takes to help those affected, get justice and keep our people safe.”

She said the disaster was an “unimaginable tragedy for the community, and for our country.”

May also said a public inquiry will report back to her personally and that the government will cover the costs of legal representation for victims.

She also confirmed that councils have been ordered to complete safety checks on high-rise buildings in their area as a matter of urgency.

May talked with the group of residents at Downing Street a day after protesters chastised her near the scene of the Grenfell Tower fire.

She faced cries of “Shame on you” and “Coward” on Friday as security staff bundled her into her car following a meeting with locals at a church hall.

The embattled leader has been under relentless criticism since visiting and leaving the disaster scene Thursday without talking to any of those who had lost their homes in the blaze.

Residents were angry at the prime minister’s decision not to meet with victims when she initially visited the area.

Besides the public inquiry, May has announced a fund of $6.4 million to help those affected by the blaze.

On Saturday, she said more money would be made available if required and urged authorities to ensure all those who have lost their homes are rehoused within the next three weeks.

She also said more staff will be made available to residents to help offer advice and support as well as requesting daily reports on the housing situation.

“There have been huge frustrations that people do not know who to talk to, that they can’t get through on the council hotlines,” May said.

“I have ordered that more staff be deployed across the area, wearing high visibility clothing, so they can easily be found, dispense advice and ensure the right support is provided. Phone lines will have more staff.

“Victims have concerns their voice will not be heard, that their many questions about this tragedy will not be answered.”

After being heavily jeered by protesters, May attracted additional criticism in a BBC interview when she sidestepped questions about whether she had failed to grasp the mood of the public after the disaster.

May was asked numerous times why she had not met with those affected by the blaze Thursday.

“This was a terrible tragedy that took place,” she said. “People have lost their lives and others have lost everything, all their possessions, their home and everything.

“What we are doing is putting in place the support that will help them. But it is a terrible tragedy. I have heard horrifying stories from the fire brigade, from police and from victims themselves who were in that tower but also from other local residents, some of whom of course have not been able to go back to their homes either.”

May’s meeting Saturday with victims, residents, volunteers and community leaders came as Queen Elizabeth II marked her official birthday with a statement saying it was “difficult to escape a very somber national mood.”

On Friday, Elizabeth and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, visited the area and met residents and community representatives.

In her official birthday message Saturday, the queen addressed the latest tragedy to hit the nation.

“Today is traditionally a day of celebration,” the Queen said in a statement. “This year, however, it is difficult to escape a very somber national mood. In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.”

She said her visits to London and Manchester — the latter the site of a terror attack last month — have highlighted the people who offer comfort and support to those affected.

“Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity,” she said. “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.”