Residents lash out at officials over response before and after London apartment tower fire – Los Angeles Times

 In World

On the streets around the charred Grenfell Tower, Prime Minister Theresa May’s name is being uttered in angry tones with rising frequency.

“She didn’t speak to anyone when she came here.”

“She’s supposed to be our leader.”

“Coward.”

Those are just some of the words local residents have said during often-emotional debates in the shadow of the 24-story burned tower that now looms ominously over the neighborhood.

Police said Saturday that at least 58 people have either been confirmed dead, or are missing and presumed to have perished, after the public housing apartment complex was consumed by the raging blaze in the early hours of Wednesday. The death toll could still rise.

May, who was reelected prime minister just last week in an election that saw her Conservative Party majority in Parliament wiped out, has been accused of dramatically — perhaps even catastrophically — misjudging the public mood when she visited the site of the devastation Wednesday afternoon. She chose to speak only to emergency crews at the scene before being swiftly whisked away.

Comparisons have been made to George W. Bush’s “Katrina moment,” when the president was photographed staring down at New Orleans from a plane window, instead of interacting with distraught residents on the ground.

By contrast, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labor Party made huge gains in the election on a platform of representing “the many, not the few,” mingled with residents, listened to their anger and concerns and promised to get answers for the bereaved and homeless.

May’s actions left a bitter taste in many mouths, and by the time she returned Thursday to visit the injured in hospital as well as volunteers at a makeshift collection center in a nearby church, there was palpable anger among the crowd. People booed and heckled her departing vehicle, shouting, “Shame on you.”

The differing responses from the two most high-profile political leaders in the country in many ways reflects the forces that undermined May’s majority during the election earlier this month in which she sought — and failed — to make the debate all about her strong leadership and ability to navigate the country through upcoming negotiations to leave the European Union.

Corbyn meanwhile talked little of that departure, known as Brexit, and instead made the election about the electorate feeling beaten down and disenfranchised after years of Conservative Party austerity cuts that have affected welfare services, the National Health Service, education provisions and local council budgets.

Although the Labor Party gained 56 fewer seats overall compared to the Conservatives, it won 40% of the vote share and hailed the results a victory.

There have been brief moments in recent days where the grief and anger have boiled over into physical confrontation. Ahead of a vigil Friday night, crowds marched through the streets chanting: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” while holding banners reading “Tenants die when landlords don’t listen” and “Tories have blood on their hands.”

“I think after this tragic event, people want to be heard and are using this to express their overwhelming emotions at all these cuts,” said Micky Mesic, 57, who lives in a neighboring residential block on the Lancaster West estate and watched in horror as people burned. “I believe it’s going to be a turning point. Everyone has a bad experience about repairs, but when [they are] asking for rent, they’re very prompt. They have to look after the people that live in these buildings.”

The blackened residential tower that housed low-income residents is visible from multiple vantage points: the subway platform, the corner store, the public phone booth, all of which are now plastered with “Missing” posters. And the demand for answers is mounting rapidly as people question how a tragedy of this scale could have happened in one of the richest boroughs in London, which is one of the most prosperous cities in the world.

“People are just angry now; where are the leaders?” said Sabu Hussain, 25, who lives near the tower. “We want to know what are the changes taking place from today to stop this happening in any other building. We need changes in this country. Everybody is sick and tired. This is real.”

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