By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN, ROBERT BUMSTED and NOREEN NASIR, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Sorrow welled across a Bronx community Monday, a day a fire and choking smoke engulfed a high-rise apartment building and claimed the lives of 17 people, eight of them children.
As survivors recalled the frantic chaos of their escape, bereft family and friends of those who perished coped with shock, disbelief and pain.
“Some people don’t even know that their loved ones are gone,” said Fathia Touray, speaking to The Associated Press from her home in the United Arab Emirates. Her mother and siblings lived on the building’s third floor, where the fire started. One sister was rushed to a hospital, but is now in stable condition. The rest of her immediate family escaped.
Mayor Eric Adams said Monday morning that several people were still in critical condition after a malfunctioning space heater sparked the city’s deadliest fire in three decades.
Renee Howard, 68, became emotional as she spoke about the lives lost.
“I’ve never experienced such devastation. My neighbors died, children died — I don’t understand, I don’t understand,” she said as she broke into sobs.
“I don’t remember all their names right now,” she said, before rattling off a few, including one boy who she described as having “such beautiful angelic eyes.”
All those lives, she said, were “snatched away in a second.”
She joined other residents, surviving family and strangers alike in prayer Monday to console the grieving.
At Masjid-ur-Rahmah, a mosque just a few blocks from the apartment building, more than two dozen people came together in solidarity. Many of those who pray at the mosque live in the building.
About a dozen women wept inside the mosque, mourning the loss of three young children in the fire. Members of the congregation weren’t sure about whether the children’s parents’ survived, and many family members feared the worst.
“To God we belong and to God we return,” said the mosque’s imam, Musa Kabba, who urged congregants to be patient while awaiting news about loved ones.
Many who lived at the apartment complex had formed a close-knit community, and soon word spread about who might have died amid the smoke and fire.
“I’m so sorry for the people that lost their children and their mothers because we all are one. And for this to happen, it’s horrible,” said Tysena Jacobs, a building resident.
Mahamadou Toure struggled to find the words outside a hospital emergency room, hours after the fire took the life of his 5-year-old daughter and her teenage brother.
“Right now my heart is very …,” Toure tried to tell the Daily News, before composing himself.
“It’s OK. I give it to God,” he continued.
Neighborhood residents, Johanna Bellevue among them, donated clothes and other necessities to survivors.