The London police said on Saturday that the death toll from the inferno at the Grenfell Tower in west London had risen to 58.
The announcement by Cmdr. Stuart Cundy, who said the toll was still expected to rise, came as Queen Elizabeth II made note of the country’s recent struggles.
“It is difficult to escape a very somber national mood,” the queen said in a statement to mark her official birthday — an occasion that typically does not result in any public comments from the monarch. “In recent months, the country has witnessed a succession of terrible tragedies.”
The fire at the 24-story public housing project broke out early Wednesday morning — after Britons had been hit with three terrorist attacks in less than three months, in London and Manchester.
The deadly blaze has mushroomed into a political crisis, testing the fragile government of Prime Minister Theresa May. Her political future — already in doubt after her Conservative Party lost its governing majority in snap elections she called — has been further questioned because of her response to the fire. Some have even referred to it as Mrs. May’s Hurricane Katrina moment.
The prime minister’s response, characterized as stilted and lacking empathy, and her failure to meet with victims during an initial visit to the site only served to amplify complaints about her leadership. When Mrs. May finally went out to meet with victims at St. Clement’s Church on Friday — one of several sites near the tower offering clothes, food and toiletries to victims and their loved ones — she was heckled with shouts of “Coward!”
Angry crowds also stormed a local government office on Friday, shouting, “We want justice” and demanding that the authorities provide an accounting of the victims, as well as support for the survivors. Mrs. May has announced a fund of about $6.5 million for the victims. Local councils will also carry out safety checks on buildings similar to the Grenfell Tower, the prime minister said.
On Saturday, Mrs. May acknowledged that support for survivors and families of the victims “was not good enough.”
Fire safety experts believe that cladding used on the building’s exterior may have fueled the blaze. Many residents are still unaccounted for, and the police said some remains may never be identified. Community groups have said that warnings about poor fire safety have long been ignored, and that in the aftermath of the disaster, officials failed to immediately take care of those affected.
The fire has also become a symbol of class inequality — the Grenfell Tower’s charred remains stand high above one of the British capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods. The building had been home to a diverse group of residents, many of them from Sudan, Eritrea and Syria.
The first victim to be identified was Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee. A spokesman for Britain’s Home Office said on Saturday it was helping his family travel to the country from Syria, but did not provide further details.
A short walk away, however, are apartments and houses that cost millions of pounds and are home to a wealthy elite that residents of the Grenfell Tower had seen as a world apart.
In an interview with the BBC, Mrs. May promised a public inquiry into the disaster and pledged that survivors would be rehoused within weeks. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” she said.