Bronx fire kills nine, including eight kids
NEW YORK – Working the night shift in a livery cab, Mamadou Soumare answered his cell phone to hear his wife shrieking, trapped with their children inside a burning building, desperate for help.”She said, ‘We have a fire.’ She was screaming,” he said.Soumare raced to the three-story house near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx early Thursday in time to watch his children from the street, inside the home, dying in the fiery tomb. Among the dead were his wife, Fatoumata, son and 7-month-old twins.Moussa Magassa, who shared the home with Soumare, received his grim phone call while on a business trip to their native Mali. He was every bit as helpless as word came that five of his 11 children perished in the fast-moving fire, which devastated families from the streets of the South Bronx to villages in west Africa.The fire was New York City’s deadliest in 17 years, not including the Sept. 11 attacks. The blaze claimed nine victims – eight children and one adult from the two families, all relatives who shared the space. The fire, believed to be accidental, spread from the basement and trapped victims on the upper floors, with one screaming mother tossing children into the night in hopes of saving their lives – then jumping herself. The woman survived.”I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Mamadou Soumare, the cabbie who lost his wife. “I love her. I love my wife.”The street outside was filled with screams as flames erupted from the home: “Help me! Help me! Please! Please!” Neighbor Edward Soto raced toward the fire through the frigid night air, then looked in disbelief as an infant fell from the building and through the smoke.”All I see is just a big cloud of white dust, and out of nowhere comes the first baby,” said Soto, who caught the child with another neighbor, David Todd. The baby wasn’t breathing, but it barely registered. Moments later, Soto caught a second child hurled through a shattered window by a woman trapped inside the three-story inferno. Both of the children survived.The fire, which raged for two hours, was sparked by an overheated space heater near a mattress in the basement, officials said. Police said there was no evidence of a crime.The deadly blaze was the city’s worst since the 1990 Happy Land social club fire that killed 87 people. The dead were found throughout the building, mostly on the upper floors, with the babies still in their cribs, said one fire official.Magassa, an official of the New York chapter of the High Council for Malians Living Abroad, was headed back from a business trip to Mali after receiving the grim news, said council representative Bourema Niambele.Magassa arrived in New York about 15 years ago, friends said. One neighbor said Magassa and Mamadou Soumare were brothers. Fatoumata Soumare came from the village of Tasauirga and left for the Bronx about six years ago, friends said.Neighbors described a close-knit family, with the children often seen playing in the yard or in the street with water guns and scooters.Authorities said 22 people, including 17 children, lived inside the house, which had converted into two apartments. Many were stranded on the upper floors after the basement fire raced up the stairs shortly after it began around 11 p.m. Wednesday.Todd, 40, who lives in an adjoining apartment building, said one child was already on the ground in the yard when he arrived with Soto outside the burning home. “Please God, help my children!” the woman inside screamed while tossing kids through the broken glass of an upstairs window – and then plunging herself from the window.Another neighbor, Elaine Martin, was moving her car when she heard the shouts from inside the home. The flames were shooting from the building when she arrived, and a woman in a nightgown stood crying in the street.”My kids is in there, my kids is in there,” the woman wailed to Martin.Among the dead, according to family members, were Fatoumata Soumare, 42, and her three children: a son, Dgibril, and 7-month-old twins, Sisi and Harouma. A fourth child, 7-year-old Hasimy, escaped, her father said. The family members provided different name spellings than the authorities did.Authorities identified the members of the Magassa family as four brothers – Bandiougou, 11, Mahamadou, 8, Abudubucary, 5, and Bilaly, 1 – and their sister, 3-year-old Diaba. Multiple spellings of the family’s surname were provided after the fire, but property records and phone listings have it as Magassa.There were reports of 19 injuries, including four firefighters and an emergency medical worker. A 7-year-old girl remained in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said, while a pair of 6-year-olds and a 24-year-old were in stable codntion.The home did not have a fire escape and was not required to under city building codes, according to the Building Department. There were no complaints or violations on record against the building, constructed in 1901, said department spokesman Kate Lindquist.A Muslim cleric who knew the Magassa family said its patriarch was a well-known figure in the community.”He’s the best in our community,” said Imam Mahamadou Soukouna. “It’s very, very, very sad what has happened to us today.”
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