Published: Sun, June 25, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Hundreds face housing chaos as tower blocks evacuated over cladding fears

Hundreds of residents of a London housing estate have found their lives thrown into chaos after their tower blocks were evacuated amid safety fears linked to the Grenfell disaster.

Residents leave a tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, Friday evening, June 23, 2017, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow "urgent fire safety works" to take place. M.

Police investigating the cause of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower blaze have said the fire started in a fridge but spread rapidly due to external cladding on the building, trapping residents in their beds as they slept. Council leader Georgia Gould said fire inspectors uncovered problems with "gas insulation and door stops", which, combined with the presence of flammable cladding encasing the high-rises, meant residents had to leave immediately.

Refurbishment of the Chalcots towers was overseen by Rydon, the same company involved in the recent renovation of the now-devastated Grenfell Tower.

The fire has acted as a focal point for anger at local authority funding cuts and, if more buildings are deemed unsafe, the government faces the task of rehousing people within existing social housing facilities which are stretched.

Residents are being told to go to the rest centre at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre where they can talk to council workers who will help them find temporary accommodation.

"So far the cladding from 34 high-rise buildings, in 17 local authority areas, has failed the combustibility test", he added.

Speaking as she waited for a taxi at 4 am on Saturday, Zega Ghebre, 42, who has lived in one of the evacuated Camden blocks for two years, said: "It's unbelievable, hard to describe".

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The tragedy took place in the village of Xinmo in Maoxin county of Sichuan early on Saturday as a result of torrential rains. As of Sunday afternoon, only three people — a couple and their month-old baby — had been rescued from the disaster site.

The 34 buildings affected are from 17 local authority areas, including the city of Manchester, Camden, Plymouth, Hounslow, Portsmouth, Barnet and Brent.

Cladding on nine high-rise blocks has been identified as being made from aluminium composite material (ACM), which was used on Grenfell Tower.

But 83 residents have refused to leave with many furious at the short notice given - some even finding out from the news rather than from the local authority.

If all fire-prone cladding panels is stripped from the evacuated towers, this is what they will look like.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan backed the Camden Council's decision to evacuate the apartment blocks. So obviously I got on the phone straight away to my dad, who said obviously we're all concerned. They spent the night in a temporary accommodation as the local Council geared up to change the cladding on blocks, a process expected to last some three to four weeks. "He (the security guard) stood in front of the door and guys surrounded him and he said "we need to know who you are".

"I urge the Government to make sure all necessary support - including, crucially, financial support - is urgently made available to councils across the country so they can deal swiftly and effectively with the scale of the fire safety challenge". The buildings evacuated Friday are all part of government-run, low-priced public housing developments, as was the one that burned last week.

"The London Fire Brigade advised that there were a number of fire safety issues that we and the LFB were previously unaware of in the Chalcots buildings and recommended that residents should not remain in the buildings until these issues are resolved", Gould said in a statement early Saturday.

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