Posted by: lifeonislandtime | August 12, 2017

Grenfell Tower

It was the last Friday of school. I was home that evening, chilling on the couch. Trav was at work. Kelly, my co-teacher, texted me to turn on my tv and watch the news. She asked where we were staying in London. I didn't understand until I turned the news on, and saw a London Highrise on fire.

Since 9/11, I haven't seen a fire where people were leaping out of the building. The sheer number of fire trucks and firefighters there was astronomical. I called Trav and had him turn it on. He was also amazed, but not for the reasons I was. He couldn't believe that the fire was allowed to spread so far as to engulf an entire high rise. His words were that someone had to have screwed up somewhere.

While we were out in Notting Hill for Portobello market we saw flyers everywhere for fundraisers for the Grenfell Tower Disaster. Community meetings with stakeholders about the Grenfell Tower Disaster. Calls for the resignations of public officials related to the Grenfell Tower Disaster. Between the fire and us leaving for London, some of the preliminary reports had come out, and Trav had read them at work. Apparently when the building was "brought up to code" in 2012, fire sprinklers weren't added. Instead, aluminum cladding was added to make the building look nicer. You see, the address of the building is in Kensington, which contains the neighborhoods of Notting Hill (like in the movie) and Kensington (where The Royal Princes of Charles, William, and Harry live); where the white or pastel row houses carry £900,000+ price tags, and it's safe to park your Benz or Tessa in your private parking space. It's also home to neighborhoods like Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park; rundown neighborhoods filled with 1970's apartment blocks, immigrants, and "income restricted" housing, like Grenfell Tower.

Seeing the tower, still standing but a charred ruin, brings back memories of Ground Zero and "The Pile", as the debris heap came to be known. Just like 9/11, it's unknown how many actually died in the Tower. Because the area is popular with the immigrant and refugee population, many of the apartments housed far more people than they were designed to hold. The "official" death toll is 85-120 people. Many times that number actually perished.

The fire began on the 4th floor, and burned through the unit and into the backing of the aluminum cladding. The cladding acted as insulation and a conduit for the fire. The fire department, fighting the fire from the inside, did not realize the fire had gotten into the cladding. They spent the night chasing the fire until they could no longer go into the building. All they could do was soak it from the outside and let it burn out.

Many in the community feel that the response from the government is tepid, at best. Many feel,that if it had been a few blocks over in the more affluent areas of Kensington the response to the loss of life and the search for victims would be much larger. After visiting the area, I'm inclined to agree.

I visited Ground Zero in February 2012. The number of people visiting the site necessitated them adding a viewing area, and streets were clogged with memorials and items left to remember those lost. 9/11 was a terrorist act, and I realize that it's status of an act of terror influenced the site and memorial. But the Grenfell Tower Disaster had memorials left by neighbors. Posters of missing persons cover lampposts, storefronts, pub windows, and walls of bridge underpasses. The church in the area has the remnants of a memorial, but it's not being added to. It feels neglected and forgotten.

Under the overpass, a people's park exists. It's not green, but has seating, a community lending library, they show movies, etc. While we were there a documentary filmmaker was interviewing residents about the fire. That was the extent of "memorials" we saw. I'm inclined to feel like the residents: the tepid investigations and lack of response is in proportion to the wealth of the area. If you're poor, you're invisible.

I don't know what will happen next. The tower is completely unstable. Trying to take it down safely is like trying to play a game of Jenga with chopsticks. The stakes are higher, however. Surrounding the tower are more "income dependent" housing blocks. If the crew chooses the wrong piece to remove, the entire tower could come crashing down on the apartments. Further, as the tower is brought down the bodies on the higher levels will need to be recovered. The tower is still not stable enough to be searched, so those families missing members won't see any resolution any time soon. I think the scariest thing though, are the number of buildings still without fire sprinklers. They don't need to be added to buildings over a certain age, as it's cost-prohibitive to the owners.

I still don't know what to make of it. But it reminded me enough of Ground Zero I feel it should be remembered.

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