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79 people presumed dead in London tower block fire: police

© METROPOLITAN POLICE/AFP | The inside of the Grenfell Tower in west London on June 16, 2017 after a fire engulfed the 24-storey building

LONDON (AFP) - 

Seventy-nine people are dead or missing and presumed dead following a devastating blaze in a London tower block last week, police said on Monday, as Britain held a minute's silence for the victims.

"As of this morning, I'm afraid to say there are now 79 people that we believe are either dead or missing and I sadly have to presume are dead," police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

Police had earlier put the toll at 58 presumed dead.

He said only five people had been formally identified so far by police, after officers earlier warned that some may never be identified due to the condition of the remains.

Cundy said the search and recovery operation was ongoing in the burnt-out 24-storey tower.

"This is an incredible distressing time for families and they have my commitment that we will do this as quickly as we possibly can," he said.

Cundy promised an "exhaustive" criminal investigation into the fire that would also look at a major refurbishment of the building completed last year.

"We will go where the evidence may take us," and do everything possible "to ensure that those responsible will be brought to justice," he said.

"If I identify... an issue that is a risk to public safety, we will be sharing that immediately with the relevant authorities," he added.

Cundy warned that the toll of 79 people could change.

"I believe there may be people who were in Grenfell Tower that people may not know were missing and may not have realised they were in there on the night.

"Equally, there may be people who thankfully may have managed to escape the fire and for whatever reason have not let their family or friends or police know," he said.

© 2017 AFP