Nine children are among at least 19 people killed and dozens injured after a fire broke out in a high-rise apartment building in New York yesterday.
At least 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, which broke out before 11 a.m. local time on the second and third floors of a 19-story building in the Bronx.
Witnesses reported seeing trapped residents screaming for help from windows during the blaze, which the city’s fire chief said was caused by a portable electric heater, leaving victims on «every floor».
«There were a lot of kids crying, ‘Help me!'» Delaney Rodriguez, 38, who fled with her children, told AFP. Help me, help me! «.
Mayor Eric Adams told reporters that 19 people had been confirmed dead and 63 wounded, including several others in a «critical condition.»
«This will be one of the worst fires in our history,» he said.
He added in a subsequent tweet: «Join me in praying for those we’ve lost, especially the nine innocent lives that were killed.»
The predominantly working-class Bronx neighborhood is home to a large immigrant population, and Mr Adams said «many» of the building’s residents were Muslims who had moved to New York from The Gambia.
Pictures and videos posted on social media showed flames and thick black smoke billowing from the third-floor window of the brick building on East 181 Street as firefighters worked on a nearby ladder.
«Of course, the fire alarm went off, and then smoke spread everywhere,» said Mohammed Trawali, 49, a resident of the building.
«So it was definitely devastating. Lots of smoke. Even now, when I clean my throat, all I see is black mucus. It was very dangerous, I’ve never seen anything like it before.»
«It was a mess,» said George King, who lives right next door to the building.
«I’ve been here for 15 years and this is the first time I’ve seen something like this.»
The wounded were taken to five hospitals. Officials said many had suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest and inhaled heavy smoke.
Michael Joseph, 32, who lives in the building, said it took about 30 minutes to get to the lobby and then go down six flights of stairs because of the thick smoke.
«Actually, because of all the smoke, and just inhaling it, it’s so thick. Like you can’t breathe, like you’re suffocating.»
New York City Fire Department commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters that the fire broke out in a bedroom in a portable electric fireplace.
He said flames quickly engulfed much of the structure and that the smoke was so thick that it was «never seen before».
Mr Negro added that the «extremely intense» fire and smoke «caused the height of the entire building».
«The members found victims on every floor, in stairs,» he said.
«The last time we lost lives which may be horrific was a fire more than 30 years ago, also here in the Bronx,» Mr. Negro added.
He explained that the fire originated in a duplex apartment on the second and third floors of the building.
He said the apartment door was left open, allowing fire and smoke to spread.
«If you close the door, the smoke will be contained and the fire will spread inside that apartment rather than the stairs,» Negro told reporters.
He added that buildings like this one have no fire.
19 people, including several children, were killed in an apartment fire in the Bronx borough of New York City. About 200 firefighters participated in fighting the fire in an apartment building on 181 Street | Read more: https://t.co/doMHilXc7M pic.twitter.com/Xa3IaO8rKG
– RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 9, 2022
Ms Rodriguez, a woman who survived the fire with her children, said the smoke was so thick when she went down to the ground that «we couldn’t see».
She said, «They took my daughter away from me and I panicked. As soon as I was walking the stairs, I saw a dead body on the ground trying to save her.»
Mr Adams, who took office only on January 1, said the fire was a «real tragedy», adding that many residents had been displaced.
«This is really a terrible day for us,» he said.
Negro said the fire was the worst in the city since a fire at the Happy Land nightclub in 1990 in the Bronx, which killed 87 people and was caused by an arson.
In December 2017, 13 people were killed in a Bronx apartment building fire in the deadliest New York City fire in 25 years.
It was started by a three-year-old boy playing with a gas stove.
Yesterday’s fire came just four days after a fire broke out Philadelphia killed 12 people, including eight children, in a three-story public apartment building.
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