Camden flats: Residents’ lives in chaos as four tower blocks evacuated amid cladding fire safety fears


Residents on a London housing estate have told how their lives have been thrown into chaos after their tower blocks were evacuated amid safety fears in the wake of the devastating Grenfell Tower inferno.

Up to 4,000 residents – including families with newborn babies and a Second World War veteran – were ordered out of their homes on the Chalcots estate in Camden after fire officers said they could not guarantee the safety of the buildings.

Four high rises on the estate are thought to be covered with a similar type of cladding as that used at Grenfell Tower, five miles to the south west, where at least 79 people died in the June 14 tragedy.

A nationwide safety operation was launched after the disaster amid fears dozens of residential tower blocks could be swathed in the same material.

Work had been due to begin on stripping cladding from buildings on the Chalcots estate, but Camden Council ordered the evacuation of residents on Friday evening following further checks and concerns over “gas pipe insulation”.

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Evacuation: Residents were ordered to leave their homes on the Chalcots Estate (EPA)

Those affected may not be able to return home for three or four weeks, Camden Council said.

In the early hours of Saturday morning many residents were either staying at two relief centres in the borough, or were being dispatched to accommodation across the capital by the council.

Waiting for a minibus to take her family to a hotel six miles away, Zega Ghebre, 42, said the situation was “unbelievable”.

“I’ve got three children, an 11-year-old, a nine-year-old boy and a one-and-a-half year-old girl, she’s a baby.

“We couldn’t pack anything because we didn’t know where we are going, but hopefully we will get back,” she said as she stood outside Swiss Cottage Library, one of the emergency shelters in the shadow of the blocks.

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A woman carries her cat after she is told to leave her home on the Chalcots Estate over safety fears (EPA)

She added: “We have been offered a hotel in Wembley now. Hopefully it won’t be long. If I’m there for weeks I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it.”

Earlier 94-year-old Peter Bertram, a former RAF aircraft hand and a resident of the estate for 46 years, said he was “shocked” by the ordeal.

He said: “It was a rush, I didn’t know anything. My neighbour told me ‘get this and that’. It happened so quick, I don’t have the energy for that now. It’s an experience, but it’s getting settled in again.

As the scattered families and householders came to terms with the upheaval:

Two relief centres in Swiss Cottage and the Camden Centre in King’s Cross were said to be near capacity
Camden Council said it had secured hundreds of hotel beds for evacuated residents
Residents were being encouraged to stay with friends and family if possible while remedial work takes place
The Prime Minister said her “thoughts are with residents being evacuated in Camden” and offered “every support we can”
One of the five towers evacuated was later deemed safe and residents were told they could return

Council leader Georgia Gould told Sky News that the decision to evacuate five tower blocks on the estate – Taplow, Burnham, Bray, Blashford and Dorney – was made at around 6.30pm on Friday.

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Residents evacuated from Chalcots Estate tower blocks arrive at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre and Library in Camden (EPA)

Officials went door-to-door one at a time for safety reasons, starting at Taplow then working through Burnham, Bray, Blashford and Dorney.

The council had said just 161 households in the Taplow building on the estate were being “temporarily decanted” to allow up to four weeks of work to the building.

However the decision was later made to evacuate all five towers, causing confusion among the residents.

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Up to four thousand people were evacuated from the tower blocks (EPA)

Some locals said they only learned of the evacuation as they watched the news.

People were told to leave as darkness began to fall, with some taking belongings in suitcases and carrier bags.

Ms Ghebre said: “The thing that makes me angry is that we watched the news, we tried to evacuate and they sent us back, they said they were only taking Taplow. We asked again and again and they gave us all different reasons. We were told ‘There’s nothing to worry about, you’re not going to evacuate’.

“It’s hard to trust anyone now, because if they come and tell me something, we won’t know.”

A letter sent to residents of the estate by the council warns them that they need to be moved from their homes for “between three and four weeks”, with the required fire safety work expected to be completed within this timeframe.

It added: “The Grenfell fire changes everything. We are taking this action because the safety of our residents comes first.

“We are sorry for the disruption this will cause to your lives, but we will work as quickly as possible over the coming weeks to get you back into your homes.”

The letter also advises that staying with friends and family “may be the best option”, and states that the council will provide temporary accommodation at no extra cost if residents are unable to do this.

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