Britons cry for London fire victims as death toll rises to 79
"I believe there are 79 people that are either dead, or missing, and sadly I have to presume are dead."
The death toll from a fire that ravaged a London tower block last week has risen to 79, police said on Monday, as the government tried to show it was improving its handling of a tragedy that has angered the public.
Fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a social housing block in Kensington, west London, in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as it tore through the building with terrifying speed.
"I believe there are 79 people that are either dead, or missing, and sadly I have to presume are dead," Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.
He said that five of the dead had been formally identified and it would be a slow and painstaking task to identify the others. Because of the intensity of the blaze some may never be identified.
A minute's silence was held across Britain at 1000 GMT to honor the victims of the fire - a painfully familiar ritual after the country has been hit by three deadly attacks by Islamist extremists in London and Manchester since March.
At an improvised memorial wall covered in messages of grief and solidarity close to Grenfell Tower, firefighters and members of the local community stood together, some crying, as they observed the minute's silence.
One firefighter, in his black protective suit with FIRE emblazoned in yellow on the back, embraced a distraught woman who had photos of a missing person printed on her top.
A red t-shirt with the London Fire Brigade's logo had been placed by the memorial wall, with the name of a nearby fire station and the words "We tried, we're sorry" scrawled on it.
Briefing reporters at police headquarters, Cundy became visibly upset as he described conditions in the charred tower, where a search and recovery operation is expected to last weeks.
"I was in there myself and went all the way to the top floor and it is incredibly hard," he said, before pausing as tears welled up in his eyes.
"It is incredibly hard to describe the devastation in some parts of the building," he continued, his voice breaking.