Witnesses to the fire in New York: “I saw people who jumped out of the window” | International


When the fire alarm sounded in the damaged building Sunday in New York’s borough of the Bronx, residents got on with their lives. Mohamed Whege rolled over in bed and tried to get back to sleep. It was 11 in the morning when his son’s screams really alerted him: “Fire, fire!” The flames were coming from an apartment on the same floor, the third. The family of four ran out to knock on their neighbors’ doors to warn them that there was indeed a fire. “The alarm is always on. Day and night. That’s why when it rang we all thought it was nothing, ”Whege explains this Monday, at the foot of the building, who has his eight-year-old daughter hospitalized for burns.

The fire left at least 17 dead, including eight children under 16 years of age. Authorities had initially reported that 19 people and nine minors had died, but Mayor Eric Adams corrected the figure Monday afternoon at a news conference. The fire has been the deadliest in New York City since 1990, when a fire at the Happy Land social club, also in the Bronx, left 87 people dead. The authorities fear that the death toll will rise, as among the dozens of injured, 13 remain in critical condition “fighting for their lives.”

The residents of the neighborhood woke up this Monday traumatized, incredulous. “I still look at the building and see the chaos,” says Rafael Cabrera, 64, covered in warm clothing to the teeth on a chilly New York morning. “It was horrible … The fire, the firefighters pulling the bodies out the windows, stretchers everywhere,” describes the Puerto Rican, a resident of the neighborhood for two decades.

Mohamed Kamara, a 46-year-old Afro-descendant, has several friends and family on the block. His cousin’s 16-year-old son was one of the fatalities. He died of smoke inhalation. Kamara lives in the neighboring six-story building. He went out in the morning and smelled smoke, but the fire department had not yet arrived. “I saw people who jumped out of the window and died from it. Glass breaking. I’ve never seen anything like this, never, “he says outside his home.

Víctor Castillo, owner of a convenience store located in front of the building, came out to see what was happening, alerted by the noises. Between the sirens of the ambulances and the horns of the firefighters, he heard how they called him: “Wow!” They were his clients who yelled at him from the windows of their houses, trapped. “People cried for help and I couldn’t do anything,” he says on the other side of the counter of his shop. “I feel distressed. Because although it is not yet known who the dead are, we assume that we know all of them, especially the children, who often visit the business often ”, adds Alison Ortiz, an employee of the small business.

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The malfunction of an electric stove caused a fire in a room of a duplex located on the second and third floors of the block, located on 181 Street. The flames were mainly contained in the apartment, but the dense black smoke spread like a buzz through the 19-story block, too tall to possess the iconic New York exterior fire escape stairs. The internal stairs, the only escape route, were like a wolf’s mouth, according to the testimonies of the neighbors who managed to escape. The Chief of the Fire Department, Daniel Nigro, pointed out that the victims had suffered very serious injuries due to smoke inhalation. Rescue teams, which continued to work on Monday, found victims at each plant.

The speed with which the smoke spread was due to the fact that the door to the damaged house did not close when the family fled. Adams revealed Monday that the 120-unit building has self-closing doors. “There may have been a maintenance problem with that door. That is part of the ongoing investigation, “said the new Democratic mayor in the program. Good Morning America.

Donations

This Monday, some of the broken glass in the windows that exploded or that the firefighters broke to let the smoke out were still scattered on the street. While rescue teams and cleaners worked in the area, residents approached the building to collect documents or medicine they left at their homes that they do not know when they will return, if they can ever do so. Dozens of people arrived carrying bags full of clothes, bedspreads and cans of food to donate to those affected. “I hope the city or the state helps these families. We are a community that has been greatly affected by the pandemic and we were already going through a difficult time, ”says Kamara.

President Joe Biden, offering the White House collaboration to Mayor Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul, sent a message of support to the victims Sunday: “We will not forget you. We will not abandon them ”. The American Red Cross has assisted in the task of relocating displaced residents and the mayor’s office has started a fundraiser through its website to support the victims.

The 1972 building is part of a complex called Twin Parks Northwest created as an affordable housing project. It is located a few minutes from a mosque, so many residents of the property are Muslim. Mayor Adams this morning described the fire as a “global tragedy” because the Bronx represents “the ethnic diversity of the world.” This district of New York is one of the most densely populated (1.4 million). 35% of the population is black, 29% white, 3% Asian, and more than 54% is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Many of the fire’s victims are African immigrants, along with some Latinos. According to the authorities, a significant number come from the Gambia.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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