New York: doctors battle for lives of dozens gravely hurt in Bronx fire

Doctors worked on Monday to save the lives of several people gravely injured when smoke from a fire knocked them out or trapped them in their apartments in a New York City high-rise. Nineteen people, including nine children, died in the blaze on Sunday.

Dozens were hospitalized and as many as 13 were in critical condition after the fire in the Bronx, the city’s deadliest blaze in three decades.

The mayor, Eric Adams, told CNN the death toll could rise.

“We pray to God that they’ll be able to pull through,” he said.

Investigators determined that a malfunctioning electric space heater started the fire in the 19-story building.

The flames damaged only a small part of the building but smoke escaped through the apartment’s open door and turned stairwells – the only way to escape a building too tall for fire escapes – into dark, ash-choked horrors.

Some people could not escape because of the volume of smoke, said Daniel Nigro, the city fire commissioner. Others became incapacitated as they tried to get out. Firefighters found victims on every floor, many in cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Children were seen being given oxygen after they were carried out. Some who fled had faces covered in soot. Firefighters continued making rescues even after their air supplies ran out, Adams said.

Hassane Badr told the New York Times two of his siblings, both children, were killed and a 25-year-old cousin remained unaccounted for.

Badr, 28, waited at Jacobi Medical Center for news about his 12-year-old brother, who was suffering from serious smoke inhalation. A five-year-old sister was at another hospital.

“I’m thinking like I’m dreaming, this is not true. You hear people crying, my goodness,” Badr said. “To be honest, I’m not believing it right now.”

Badr’s family, 11 people from Mali, lived in a three-bedroom apartment on the third floor.

Mahamadou Toure struggled to put his grief into words outside the hospital emergency room where his five-year-old daughter and the girl’s teenage brother died, according to the New York Daily News.

“Right now my heart is very …” Toure trailed off. “It’s OK. I give it to God.”

Nigro said an investigation would determine whether the blaze could have been prevented or contained. Adams said it appeared smoke spread due to a door that was supposed to automatically close being open.

“There may have been a maintenance issue with this door. And that is going to be part of the ongoing investigation,” Adams told ABC on Monday.

The building is equipped with smoke alarms, but several residents said they initially ignored them because alarms were so common in the 120-unit building.

Large, new apartment buildings in the city are required to have sprinkler systems and interior doors that swing shut automatically to contain smoke and deprive fires of oxygen, but those rules do not apply to thousands of older buildings.

Building resident Sandra Clayton grabbed her dog Mocha and ran for her life when she saw the hallway fill with smoke and heard people screaming, “Get out! Get out!”

Clayton, 61, said she groped her way down a darkened stairway. The smoke was so black she couldn’t see, but she could hear neighbors wailing and crying.

“I just ran down the steps as much as I could but people was falling all over me, screaming,” Clayton recounted from a hospital where she was treated for smoke inhalation.

Her dog slipped from her grasp and was later found dead in the stairwell.

Jose Henriquez, who lives on the 10th floor, said fire alarms would frequently go off, but would turn out to be false.

“It seems like today, they went off but the people didn’t pay attention,” Henriquez said.

He and his family stayed, wedging a wet towel beneath the door once they realized the smoke in the halls would overpower them if they tried to flee.

Luis Rosa said he also thought it was a false alarm. By the time he opened the door of his 13th-floor apartment, the smoke was so thick he couldn’t see down the hallway.

“So I said, OK, we can’t run down the stairs because if we run down the stairs, we’re going to end up suffocating. All we could do was wait.”

The fire was New York City’s deadliest since 1990, when 87 people died in an arson at the Happy Land social club, also in the Bronx. The borough was also home to a deadly apartment building fire in 2017 that killed 13 people and a 2007 fire, also started by a space heater, that killed nine.

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