79 now believed to have died in London high-rise fire

In this photo released by the Metropolitan Police on Sunday, June 18, 2017, a view of an apartment in the Grenfell Tower after fire engulfed the 24-storey building, in London. Experts believe the exterior cladding, which contained insulation, helped spread the flames quickly up the outside of the public housing tower early Wednesday morning. Some said they had never seen a building fire advance so quickly. The 24-story tower that once housed up to 600 people in 120 apartments is now a charred ruin. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

LONDON (AP) — London police said Monday that 79 people were now believed to have died in the high-rise apartment building fire.

Police Commander Stuart Cundy gave the new figure during a statement outside Scotland Yard, saying it includes both people who were confirmed dead and others who are missing and presumed dead. It’s an increase from the previous number of 58.

The new number may change as the investigation continues, Cundy said. He said that the search and recovery operation in the 24-story Grenfell Tower continues, he said, adding that it has been incredibly distressing for families.

“It’s hard to describe the devastation the fire has caused,” Cundy said, fighting back tears as he spoke.

He said it had been “incredibly emotional working in there … On Saturday, I went in myself and went to the top floor.”

He told reporters the “awful reality” was that it might not be possible to identify all the victims.

Cundy said that authorities were continuing to investigate whether any crimes had been committed in the fire. Two British officials said Sunday that new exterior cladding used in a renovation of the high-rise may have been banned under U.K. building regulations.

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