New York City, US
AP

Sorrow welled across a Bronx community Monday, a day after a fire and choking smoke engulfed a high-rise apartment building that 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.

US NYC Apartment complex fire

General view shows the apartment building in the Bronx on Monday, 10th January, in New York. Doctors are working to save the lives of several people gravely injured when smoke from a fire knocked them out or trapped them in their apartments in the New York City high-rise building. PICTURE: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura.

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.

Friends, surviving family, neighbors and strangers alike joined 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 formed a close-knit community, and soon word was spreading about who might have died amidst 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.

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Mahamadou Toure tried to find the words outside a hospital emergency room hours after the Sunday fire took the life of his 5-year-old daughter and her teenage brother.

“Right now my heart is very...” Toure tried telling the Daily News, before composing himself.

“It’s OK. I give it to God,” he continued.

US NYC apartment fire

People prepares donations at Gambian Youth Organization near the apartment building in the Bronx on Monday, 10th January, in New York. PICTURE: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura.

Neighbourhood residents, Johanna Bellevue among them, donated clothes and other necessities to survivors.

“Baby clothes, baby food, books, jackets, sneakers, whatever I can just given out whenever I can,” Bellevue said. “I can’t do much but what I have.”

Others contributed to fundraisers.

Touray now lives in the United Arab Emirates, but said she lived in the building herself for many years. 

“This is a very close-knit community,” she said, adding that her family moved to the building nearly four decades ago. Soon, others from Gambia, some from the same village as her own, would arrive. Over the years, they formed a community in one enclave of the Bronx.

“These are working class, first-generation immigrant families surviving,” she said, “and just trying to thrive in the US”

“We've lost a lot of close family friends,” said Touray, who said she expected to fly back to the United States to be with family.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis offered his condolences Monday to the victims of the “devastating” fire.

Francis sent a telegram to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan offering “heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness” to those affected by the blaze. The telegram was signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. 

The blaze, which also sent dozens of people to the hospital, was the deadliest in New York City in three decades. Investigators say a malfunctioning electric space heater, plugged in to give extra heat on a cold morning, started the fire in the 19-story building. 

Francis' message noted the loss of so many children, and said the Pope “entrusts the victims and their families to the merciful love of Almighty God and invokes upon all consolation and strength in the Lord".

- With NOREEN NASIR