A day later, grief and grief spread through a community in New York City’s Bronx devastating fire Suffocating smoke engulfed a high-rise apartment building, killing 17 people, eight of them children.
On Monday, survivors recalled the frenzied chaos as they fled, while families and friends of the victims dealt with shock, disbelief and distress.
“Some people don’t even know their loved ones are gone,” said Fathia Touray, whose mother and siblings live on the third floor of the building where the fire started.
Toure told the AP news agency from her home in the United Arab Emirates that a sister was rushed to the hospital but is now in stable condition, while the rest of her immediate family escaped.
Renee Howard, 68, became emotional as she spoke of her life lost.
“I’ve never experienced such devastation. My neighbors are dead, my children are dead – I don’t understand, I don’t understand,” she cried. All of those lives were “taken away in a second,” she said.
The fire chief determined through physical evidence and statements from residents that the fire started in a portable electric heater in an apartment bedroom in the 19-story Twin Park Northwest building, which provides affordable housing to low-income New Yorkers.
The apartment building has been heating, and portable heaters have been supplementing the heating, they said.
The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke poured in from the apartment’s open doors, turning the stairwell into a dark, ash-choked death trap. In a tower too high to escape, stairs are the only way to escape.
It was the deadliest fire in the city in three decades, officials said. Mayor Eric Adams, who has been in office for just over a week, said Monday morning that several people remained in critical condition.
“This is a global tragedy because the Bronx and New York City represent races and cultures across the globe,” Adams said at a news conference in front of the building. “This is an evolving crisis. An unspeakable tragedy.”
New York authorities also said the city was investigating a possible “maintenance issue” that the door failed to close when the fire broke out.
Adams said he spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden, who promised the White House would provide “everything” New York City needed in the wake of the fires.
The disaster could raise questions about housing safety standards in low-income cities. It was the second fire in a U.S. residential area this week after 12 people, including eight children, were killed in a blaze at a public housing apartment building in Philadelphia early Wednesday.
Firefighters and fire department officials continued to inspect the building’s interior and exterior as clean-up crews in white hazmat suits cleared sidewalks of glass and debris in the Bronx on Monday. The streets were blocked and a small group of people gathered, some with clothes and other donations to help the victims.
At Masjid-ur-Rahmah, a mosque just a few blocks from the apartment building, more than two dozen people were united. Many people who pray at the mosque live in the building.
About a dozen women wept inside the mosque, mourning the three young children killed in the fire. The congregation is unsure if the child’s parents are alive, and many family members fear the worst.
“We belong to God, we belong to God,” said the mosque’s imam Musa Kabba, urging the congregation to be patient while waiting for news about their loved ones.
Many people living in the apartment complex formed a tight-knit community, and word soon spread about who might have died in the smoke and fire.
“I feel sorry for the people who have lost their children and mothers because we are all one. It’s horrific for this to happen,” said Tysena Jacobs, a resident of the building.
Mahamadou Toure tried to find the words outside the hospital emergency room after the fire claimed the lives of his 5-year-old daughter and her teenage brother.
“My heart is very… now,” Toure tried to tell the Daily News before calming down. “It’s okay. I leave it to God,” he continued.