LONDON — Fury and frustration with the government’s handling of a fire in a public-housing high-rise that claimed at least 30 lives boiled over Friday, with protesters storming a local council office and berating Prime Minister Theresa May when she visited near the scene of the blaze.
“Shame on you!” people shouted at May as she rushed into a waiting SUV and was quickly driven away, with police struggling to hold back dozens of angry demonstrators.
Earlier, members of an impromptu protest pushed their way past security and into the council building of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea — the super-posh section of London where Grenfell Tower, once home to 600 people, burned through the night Wednesday.
Many of the protesters held aloft posters bearing the faces of the missing and chanted, “We want justice!” They left the building soon after entering. But hundreds of people remained outside. Protesters also marched on Whitehall, the street that runs past the office of the prime minister, and later through the upscale neighborhood of Notting Hill, where they called on residents to join them.
The fast-rising tensions came amid new revelations about potential cost-cutting in the refurbishment of the tower, which may have contributed to the astonishing speed with which it burned.
They also came as police acknowledged that they do not know how many people died in the blaze and may never be able to identify all of the victims.
Authorities raised the death toll to 30 on Friday, up from 17 on Thursday, as relatives and friends expanded frantic searches for missing loved ones.
“Sadly I do believe that those numbers will increase,” London Police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy told reporters. He said 24 people were being treated in hospitals, including 12 in critical care.
For three days, survivors and relatives of the dead or missing have been pressing for answers about whether inadequate safety systems or substandard construction material could have contributed to a blaze that climbed up the building faster than people could flee.
Residents had long demanded that the local council and the management company do more to improve their building’s safety. But they say their pleas for help went unheeded.
Cundy said there was no indication that Wednesday’s fire was started deliberately. But investigators were still studying why the flames raced so quickly through the 24-story building in west London. In the burned-out hull, forensic teams and others picked through the wreckage apartment by apartment in the 120-unit tower.
Outside, a steady stream of prominent well-wishers arrived, including Queen Elizabeth II and her grandson Prince William.
As the queen was leaving the area, a man held up a poster of two siblings, about 3 or 4 years old, pictured in harnesses and yellow climbing helmets — both of whom are missing. He called out to the queen, saying he was a friend of the family. She appeared to acknowledge him, then left.
The monarch’s visit upped the pressure on May, who was heavily criticized for meeting with emergency workers but not with relatives or survivors Thursday. Her office cited security concerns as the reason.
Late Friday afternoon, the prime minister visited a local church and announced a 5 million-pound fund — more than $6 million — to help victims’ families. But May, who only narrowly managed to stay on as prime minister after a bruising election last week, was roundly booed. Many in the crowd blamed her ruling Conservative Party for years of cuts and deregulation that they said had contributed to the disaster.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Friday that the cladding panels used in last year’s renovation of the building were about $2 per square meter cheaper than a fire-resistant model. The Times of London reported late Thursday that the type of cladding used on the tower had been banned in U.S. high-rises because of safety concerns.
The contractor that carried out the renovations, the management organization and the council have all denied wrongdoing, saying last year’s work complied with fire safety codes.
May ordered a public inquiry Thursday into the causes of the blaze. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pressed for findings to be released by summer’s end, citing safety concerns among tens of thousands of residents who live in other high-rises across Britain.
With the death toll from Grenfell Tower expected to rise, perhaps substantially, those looking for missing answers and missing people were growing increasingly anxious.
On Friday, the streets around the tower were filled with posters bearing photos of toddlers, mothers with their daughters and entire families.
“My friend Khadjia lives on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower . . . we can’t get through to her,” read one, posted on a bus stop.
“Have you seen Jessica Urbano?” read another, which said the curly-haired girl is 12 and instructed anyone with information to contact her parents.
Some parents who were separated from their children while fleeing the inferno were clinging to the hope that they would be found alive.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Genet Shawo fled her apartment with her husband and children Luca, 3, and Isaac, 5. But a neighbor, who volunteered to bring Isaac down the building’s single staircase, lost track of the boy in the smoke.
“My neighbor said he would hold him and bring him down,” she told London’s Evening Standard. “But when I got outside I realized Isaac wasn’t there.”
“I am praying he managed to get out somehow or someone else saved him,” she said.
Authorities have said there is no chance that anyone else will be found alive in the building, which burned for some 48 hours after the blaze began.
But some said they were still holding out hope.
“There’s hope for everyone,” said JoJo Badano, 17, as she added a picture of her missing friends to a display board already crowded with posters. “You just have to keep trying to find them.”
Her friends, Yasi El-Wahabi, 21, and his sister Nurhuda El-Wahabi, 15 or 16, lived on the 21st floor.
Badano said she would sometimes walk home from school with her brother and Yasi, who liked to tease her.
“Oh, ‘I’m going to tell your brother you’re being bad,’ ” she said he’d joke.
In his missing-person picture, Yasi has a slight smile and is wearing his baseball cap backward.
Yasi’s younger sister Nurhuda, whose long, dark hair reaches the middle of her back, is “an extremely funny girl, always in the source of laughter,” Badano said.
Soran Karimi, 32, a security guard, was also looking for missing friends. He said he hadn’t slept in 50 hours, and his giant roll of tape had worn thin as he put up poster after poster of a missing Lebanese family who lived on the 22nd floor.
The mother, Nadia, works as a teacher, and her husband works in the food hall at a Marks & Spencer department store. They have three girls — the youngest is 3.
“We are putting pictures up, hoping they are alive,” Karimi said as he taped four missing-person posters — different shots of the family — to the side of a utility box.
“We’ve been to all the hospitals, we have gone to all the churches, community centers,” he said. “We put pictures everywhere just hoping that someone might recognize or know them.”