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New York fire: Officials pledge support after 17 die in 'unspeakable tragedy'

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New York officials have pledged to support all those affected in an apartment fire on Sunday as the death toll from was revised slightly down.

At least 17 people died in the Twin Parks complex fire, including nine children. Several other people are in hospital in critical condition.

The death toll is the worst seen in a New York fire in more than 30 years.

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Bronx borough president Vanessa Gibson said she was “determined to rebuild and heal” in the wake of the incident.

“We are resilient, we are tough and we are going to turn our pain into purpose,” said Ms Gibson, who is only in her first week on the job.

Some 200 fire-fighters were sent to tackle the blaze. Fire department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said they had found victims on every floor of the 19-storey block, saying the smoke was “unprecedented”.

Investigators say a malfunctioning space heater in one apartment appeared to have caused the fire and, though the building had self-closing doors, the door to that apartment somehow stayed open.

Commissioner Nigro said the fire was on the second and third floors, but the smoke had spread everywhere.

Image source, Getty Images

A total of 63 people suffered injuries, including the 32 taken to hospital, a number who are in critical condition.

Mayor Eric Adams on Monday called the incident “a global tragedy”.

The area of the Bronx where the fire occurred is home to a large Muslim immigrant population and many of those affected by the blaze are believed to have originally come to the US from the Gambia.

Mr Adams urged anyone impacted by the fire to seek assistance from the authorities, irrespective of immigration status. He assured residents that their details would not be passed on to immigration services.

Speaking alongside him, the Gambian ambassador to the US – Sheikh Omar Faye – said his country was “in a state of shock”.

“We are a very small country of less than two million people and everybody knows everybody,” he said.

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A city in mourning

Nada Tawfik, BBC News

Outside, in the cold, some residents are still surveying the exterior damage, the blown out windows.

I met Joyce Anderson, an elderly woman who needs her heart medication from her apartment. But she was told no one was allowed back in yet, leaving Joyce in a difficult position.

Otherwise, her and her daughter are doing OK and staying with relatives, unlike their neighbour, who is still in shock.

He had to battle heavy smoke to escape and saw one child wheeled out who did not make it.

New Yorkers are still trying to comprehend how this could happen.

Nearby, at a community centre, people have been donating warm clothes and other supplies. The New York fire department has even set up a fire safety booth and is handing out smoke alarms The nature of this sudden disaster and the large number of children to die has shaken everyone here.

This is a city in mourning.

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The building hosts a number of affordable housing apartments and the blaze is likely to raise questions over the quality of such units in the city.

In a virtual news conference on Monday, Andrew Ansbro, the president of the firefighters’ union, said the building was “well-known in that area for having difficult fires”, noting that its fire protection rules with regard to sprinklers and self-closing doors may have been different from those of the city.

He claimed it was because the building had previously received federal subsidies and therefore was not required to follow the same fire codes.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams holds a press conference 10 January 2022 outside the 120-unit apartment building in the Bronx that was the site of the fire yesterday

Image source, AFP via Getty Images

But Representative Ritchie Torres, who grew up in public housing in the area and was hospitalised with asthma as a child because of poor conditions in his building, rejected the claim that federal housing can follow its own fire codes.

He and other local officials have blamed decades of disinvestment and neglect in the Bronx.

“The two values that are near and dear to most of us are our family and our home, and to lose both in the span of a single tragedy is traumatic and terrifying to an extent few of us can imagine,” said Mr Torres.

The Bronx frequently has the worst residential fires in the city.

New York City’s deadliest fire – which killed 87 of 93 people inside a social club in 1990 – took place in this borough, and the worst fires since then have also happened here.

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