LONDON: “I have seen people jump,” said one witness after a fire engulfed an apartment block in West London killing at least 12 people and injuring another 50.
"They were trapped. They couldn't come downstairs, especially from the top floor ... people have been burned, I have seen it with my own eyes,” a witness identified as Daniel told BBC Radio London. "And I have seen people jump."
Massive flames licked up the sides of the 27-storey block as 200 firefighters battled the blaze for hours along with 40 fire engines. Plumes of black and gray smoke were billowing high into the air over London hours after the blaze was sparked.
Witnesses said they heard screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose in the night and one desperate resident could be seen waving a white cloth from a top floor window. Residents were also seen desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as the fire spread.
A witness told Reuters that she feared not all the residents had escaped the fire.
Another witness named as Jody Martin told the BBC that he battled his way to the second floor only to encounter choking smoke.
"I watched one person falling out, I watched another woman holding her baby out the window ... hearing screams, I was yelling everyone to get down and they were saying 'We can't leave our apartments, the smoke is too bad on the corridors'," he said.
Some were evacuated in their pyjamas.
“SMOKE LITERALLY EVERYWHERE”: RESIDENT
Large pieces of debris could be seen falling from Grenfell Tower, a 1970s block in the working-class north Kensington area - a short distance from chic Notting Hill.
Residents related how they woke up to the smell of burning and rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors.
"There was smoke everywhere, literally everywhere,” said David Benjamin, a resident from the block. “There was people downstairs there was bits of the block, cladding falling off the block, that was on fire, people screaming.
“After a couple minutes, because obviously people were still sleeping on the higher floors, they didn't have a clue what was going on, I'm not even sure if half of them got out to be honest with you, there was kids out the window, there was people flashing their phone lights just for help, but the fire brigade couldn't get upstairs."
Two eyewitnesses told the Press Association news agency they saw children dropped by their parents into the arms of people on the ground.
One said a baby was dropped from the ninth or 10th floor, another that she saw a five-year-old boy dropped from a fifth or sixth floor window.
Khadejah Miller, who was evacuated from her home nearby, recounted a night of horror.
"I literally just heard screaming, I saw people jumping out of their windows, the building was literally on fire, the ambulances, the police. It was horrendous," she said.
Frantic families at the scene attempted to call their loved ones, fearing they could be stuck inside, and were being directed by police to a nearby restaurant where some of the injured were being treated.
The last time Hanan Wahabi saw her brother was when he and his family waved to her from their home in an upper floor after she had safely left the blazing building.
Wahabi, 39, who lives on the ninth floor of the 27-storey Grenfell Tower, said she was awoken by smoke at around 1am on Wednesday.
"I could see there was ash coming through the window in the living room, which was partially open," she told AFP, sitting with her husband and son, 16, and daughter, eight, outside a local community centre.
"I looked out and I could see the fire travelling up the block. It was literally by my window," she said. "I slammed the window shut and got out."
After the family escaped, she called her brother, who lives on the 21st floor, to see if he was all right.
"The fire hadn't reached the top of the block at that point," Wahabi said.
"He said he had been told to stay inside, stay in one room together and put towels under the door. I told him to leave. He said he was going to come. Then I called him and he said there was too much smoke.
"The last time I saw him they were waving out the window, his wife and children. The last time I spoke to his wife, he was on the phone to the fire brigade. I've not heard from them since, the phone is not going through, the landline isn't going through. That was about 2am."
"I'M A GONER"
Another survivor at the community centre, wearing shorts, a T-shirts and trainers and with a blanket draped around his shoulders, said he saved his own life with just moments to spare.
"My neighbour's smoke alarm went off and I thought he might have done some cooking," he said, giving only his first name of Eddie, 55.
"I was in bed and I heard people shout fire, fire, I opened my door and loads of smoke came in. Then two seconds later my neighbour (on fifth floor) called and said, 'Get out of the building'!"
"I went into the bathroom and I got the towel and wet it and wrapped it around my head. I run out into the hallway, close the door behind me and ran for where I thought the fire exit was. I didn't find it. It was a matter of life and death - I thought, 'If I'm in this for another five seconds, I'm a goner'."
"Then on the ground there was a fireman, he touched my leg and pulled me into where the fire stairwell was. You couldn't see anything. I just ran down the stairs. There wasn't that many people on the stairs.
"Loads of people haven't got out of the building."
Police cleared nearby buildings because of fears about falling debris and shut down a section of the A40 highway - a normally busy thoroughfare into London. A London Underground line passing the area near Latimer Road station was also shut down.
Amanda Fernandez, 31, was evacuated from a different part of the housing estate.
"When you live around here, you know people. And to stand helpless watching the fire and counting the floors, and thinking, 'Who lives on that floor? Who lives on that one?' Most of the people I know lived higher than the 10th floor."
Police said in a statement they were called at 1.16am (0016 GMT). London Fire Brigade said the fire had engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the Grenfell Tower, where several hundred people lived on the Lancaster West Estate in west London.
By early morning, most of the block was a blackened hulk. Clouds of smoke rose into the sky as firefighters sprayed water onto floors within reach of appliances on the ground.
Abdul Hamid, 51, lives on the 16th floor lost everything he owned but counted himself lucky to be alive.
"I have nothing. My passport was in there - it's gone. I'm meant to be flying to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. Now I'm homeless."