An extended family trapped in their burning Bronx house screamed for help in the night, and one woman tossed children from a second-floor window to try to save them, witnesses and authorities said Thursday. Nine people died.
Eight of the victims were children, including 7-month-old twins and boys ages 4 and 9, according to authorities and relatives. A woman in her 40s also died, and 10 people were hospitalized.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned the death toll could increase.
Twenty-two members of the extended family from the west African nation of Mali lived in the three-story house, the mayor said. A space heater or an overloaded power strip may have started the blaze, the city’s deadliest since the 1990 Happy Land nightclub fire, not including the Sept. 11 attacks, he said.
Outside the charred house, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, neighbors described how a woman had hurled children from the broken windows amid the blaze.
“All I see is just a big cloud of white dust and out of nowhere comes the first baby,” said Edward Soto, who caught the child. He said he caught a second child moments later as screams of “Help me! Help me!” were coming from the house.
Neighbor Elaine Martin said she saw another woman, shoeless and in a nightgown, on the street. She was shivering in the bitter cold and frantically worrying about her children.
“My kids is in there! my kids is in there!” Martin quoted the woman as saying.
‘We have a fire!’
Among the dead, according to family members, were Fatoumata Soumare and her three children: a son, Dgibril, and 7-month-old twins, Sisi and Harouma. Their father, Mamadou Soumara, was driving his cab in Manhattan when he received a frantic phone call from his wife.
“She said, ‘We have a fire!’ She screamed,” Soumara recalled. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I love her. I love my wife.”
Soumara rushed to the building in his cab, arriving to see his children trapped inside but unable to help. Five children from another family perished in the blaze while their father was visiting their homeland.
Mousa Magassa, an official of the New York-based High Council for Malians Living Abroad, was headed back to New York after receiving the grim news that nearly half of his 11 children were dead, said council representative Bourema Niambele.
The fire destroyed the basement and first floor. Fire investigators were on the scene trying to determine the cause. The home had two smoke alarms, but neither had batteries.
Fatoumata Madassa, a relative of the victims who lives across the street, said four families lived in the building with 17 children among them.
“The kids were always playing, either in the yard of their home or on the block with water guns and scooters,” said neighbor David Robinson.
Family ran a business
At least one of the families ran an import-export business, according to neighbors. A public records search lists African American Import Export at the address. No building violations had been reported at the home, built in 1901, said Kate Lindquist, a spokeswoman for the city Buildings Department.
Fire Department spokesman Seth Andrews confirmed the death toll early Thursday. At least 10 people were injured, five seriously. The injured included four firefighters and another emergency worker who were hospitalized with minor injuries.
Five children ranging in age from 2 to 6 were taken from the burning home to Jacobi Medical Center with smoke inhalation and burns, hospital spokesman Michael Heller said. He said three were in critical condition. One of the victims, an infant, died, he said.
3 dead on arrival at hospital
Three other victims — a woman in her 40s and boys ages 4 and 9 — were dead when they arrived at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, hospital spokesman Errol Schneer said.
The fire was reported shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. Firefighters had it under control about two hours later.
The smell of smoke lingered around the home hours afterward. Windows of the house were broken out, and parts of the building were charred and scorched. Adding to the misery, the victims were displaced on one of the coldest nights of the year.
“It’s obviously terrible for anyone to perish like this,” Bloomberg said. “It just seems more painful and more unfair when children die. When children die, everyone around them seems to die a little as well.”