At least 19 people were killed, including nine children, in a Bronx apartment complex which has been described as the deadliest fire in 30 years on Sunday, the New York Post reports.
According to officials, in addition to the lives that were lost, at least 32 more people sustained life-threatening injuries.
Authorities said that a space heater that was being used to combat the cold temperature malfunctioned, leaving residents choking, with blinding smoke trapping many of the victims of the five-alarm blaze. A door left open in the apartment where the fire began caused the smoke to spread throughout the building.
Around 200 FDNY members responded to battle the inferno.
“I heard a lot of kids yelling, ‘ Help! Help! Help,’” Dilenny Rodriguez, a resident of the complex recalled. “It was dark. The smoke was really bad. Those kids crying for help.”
Mayor Eric Adams described the cataclysmic event as “a horrific, horrific painful moment for the City of New York.”
Reportedly, Engine 48 was the first team to respond to the fire but was allegedly short-staffed due to the coronavirus.
“They only had four firefighters instead of the five they are called for because of people out sick because of COVID,” said the FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association president Andrew Ansbro, calling the blaze the worst the city has seen since 9/11.
“We feel this is an absolute case where staffing would have made a difference,” he continued.
“Several of the first engines were in the same situation. If there was adequate staffing, the fire could have been put out faster, and people would have received medical aid sooner,” he added.
FDNY officials denied that the units weren’t fully staffed at the time.
A resident said that people might not have exited the building fast enough because the fire alarm repeatedly goes off.
“The fire alarm goes off in the hallway all the time, at least twice a week,” said the resident who asked to remain anonymous. “What do I do when I watch a movie? I put the volume up because it goes off all the time.”
“I don’t know if it’s faulty or what it is. …. People on the third, fourth, fifth [floors] went about their day until they saw smoke,” he added
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who attended the briefing said she was “horrified by the devastating fire.”
“My heart is with the loved ones of all those we’ve tragically lost, all of those impacted and with our heroic FDNY firefighters,” she wrote on Twitter.