Hundreds of mattresses had been laid out

People living in council flats in Chalcots estate on Adelaide Road in Swiss Cottage, London, were evacuated in the middle of the night last night after fire inspectors said five tower blocks were at risk of going up like torches the way Grenfell Tower did.

Those affected described scenes of confusion as they were told the council was unable to guarantee residents’ safety, They are asked to find alternative accommodation or report to a local leisure centre, where hundreds of mattresses had been laid out. Others were offered hotel rooms for the night.

Speaking on Saturday morning, the leader of Camden council, Georgia Gould, said: “We’ve had a huge effort overnight to evacuate people. We have had 650 households who have moved out of the tower blocks. We’ve had everyone, council staff, volunteers, different councillors, all coming together with the fire service to move people safely out of their accommodation.”

It seems bizarre, not to wait until morning, but it’s a very human thing to react to the most recent disaster.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The last thing I wanted to do was ask residents late on a Friday night to leave their homes. I have been with them all night and people are distressed, angry and scared. It’s such a difficult decision.

“But I said to fire services, is there anything I can do to make this block safe tonight? I offered to pay for fire services to be stationed outside those blocks just so we could have a couple of days to get the works done, but the message was [that there was] nothing to do to make blocks safe that night.”

I wondered that same thing, before I read the article – wouldn’t it be simpler to station fire trucks outside for the night? But then I remembered that the Grenfell fire was out of reach of the fire trucks, so no, I guess that wouldn’t be a useful response.

Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, told Sky News early on Saturday morning that the evacuation was forced not by the cladding alone, but “multiple other fire safety failures”, including problems with insulation on gas pipes and missing fire doors.

The council initially announced on Friday that only one tower, Taplow, which contains 161 households, was to be “temporarily decanted”. Within the hour, however, Gould said the decision had been taken to evacuate the whole estate.

She said a rest centre for residents had been set up at Swiss Cottage library and efforts by council staff to process residents’ cases there were beginning immediately.

That gives me a bit of a turn. I know that library. I had a bedsitter in Hampstead once, years ago, and had Camden library tickets; Swiss Cottage and Camden were the two largest branches, and I used the Swiss Cottage one a lot.

The council earlier said it would immediately start preparing to remove cladding from five towers on the estate after an inspection ordered following the Grenfell disaster, which killed at least 79 people, found it could be a fire risk.

Gould said residents had since shared fire safety concerns that she had not previously been aware of and experts who inspected the estate on Friday informed her they could not guarantee the tenants’ safety.

“We realise that this is hugely distressing for everyone affected and we will be doing all we can, alongside London fire brigade and other authorities, to support our residents at this difficult time. The Grenfell fire changes everything, we need to do everything we can to keep residents safe,” she said.

It’s just so awful that it took the Grenfell fire to change everything.

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