New York, Jan 10 (EFE).- Seventeen people – eight of them children – and not 19, as authorities said initially, perished in a fire at an apartment building in New York’s Bronx borough, Mayor Eric Adams told a press conference Monday.
The release of an inaccurate death toll hours after Sunday’s blaze was due to double-counting as fatalities were taken to seven different hospitals, Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Commissioner Dan Nigro said during the briefing.
At the same time, he cautioned that the number of deaths could climb as 13 critically injured people were “clinging to their lives” in hospitals.
The FDNY has determined that the tragedy was the result of a malfunctioning electric space heater that caused a mattress to catch fire inside a duplex unit on the second and third floors of the building.
Though the flames did not spread beyond the duplex, the smoke reached all 19 floors of the Twin Parks North West apartments, built in 1972 to provide affordable housing for low-income residents of the Bronx.
All of the fatalities were due to the effects of the smoke.
The smoke was able to spread because the door to the burning apartment and another on the 15th floor did close automatically as they were designed to do.
“They are self-closing but the door on 15 and the door to the fire apartment were not functioning as they should,” Nigro said. “The door was not obstructed. The door when fully opened stayed fully opened because it malfunctioned.”
Adams said that the municipal government will work to get out the message that when running from a fire, people need to “close the door.”
The mayor hailed the expressions of solidarity from figures such as United States President Joe Biden and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“Just a few moments ago, I received a call from President Biden and he has made it clear that whatever we need, the White House is going to be there for us,” Adams said.
The surrounding neighborhood has a large Gambian community and many people with roots in the West African nation were residents of the stricken building.
“This is a global tragedy because the Bronx in NYC is representative of the ethnicities and cultures across the globe, and so everyone is feeling the pain of what we are experiencing,” Adams said with diplomats from Gambia and the Dominican Republic in attendance.
All of the residents were evacuated Sunday night, but New York’s Office of Emergency Management said those whose apartments were not badly damaged will likely be able to return in the coming days.
And Adams pledged that the occupants of units requiring major repairs will be provided with suitable alternative housing. EFE