NEW YORK FIRE KILLS 8 CHILDREN, 1 ADULT
By VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press Writer March 8, 2007
NEW YORK - Screams
poured from the burning building along with smoke and flames: "Help me! Help me! Please! Please!" Bystanders looked up to
see a woman toss two children out the window one at a time to those below.
The scene unfolded early
Thursday during New York's deadliest fire in nearly two decades — a blaze that killed eight children and one adult,
part of an extended family led by African immigrants who shared a row house near Yankee Stadium.
The children tossed from
the three-story building survived, authorities said. The woman who threw them jumped but survived.
The fire was sparked by
an overheated space heater near a mattress in a basement bedroom, then raced up a stairway pushed by air from broken back
windows, said Fire Chief Salvatore Cassano. Most of the 22 residents — 17 of them children — were stranded on
the upper floors as the blaze raged for two hours.
"I can't recollect a fire
where we lost eight children," Cassano said.
Neighbor Edward Soto ran
toward the fire, then stared in disbelief as an infant was tossed from the building.
"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 while with another neighbor.
Moments later, he caught a second child. At least one of the children was not breathing.
Firefighters worked for
two hours in freezing predawn temperatures to bring the flames under control. The home had two smoke alarms, but neither had
batteries. Police said there was no evidence of a crime.
The dead were found throughout
the house, mostly on the upper floors, with babies still in their cribs. The victims included five children from one family,
along with a wife and three other children from a second family.
Word of the fire spread
grief across two continents, from the Bronx to villages in Mali, a West
African country about twice the size of Texas and one of
the poorest nations in the world.
"I don't know what I'm going
to do," said a devastated Mamadou Soumare, a livery cabdriver whose wife, son and 7-month-old twins died in the blaze. "I
love her. I love my wife."
Soumare was driving through
Harlem when he received a frantic cell phone call from his wife, Fatoumata, who relatives
said died in the fire. "She said, `We have a fire,'" Soumare recalled. "She was screaming."
Soumare rushed home in his
cab, only to helplessly watch as their home turned into a fiery tomb.
Moussa Magassa, an official
of the New York chapter of the High Council for Malians Living Abroad, was headed back to
the city from a business trip to Mali
after receiving the grim news that nearly half of his 11 children were dead, said council representative Bourema Niambele.
"He's the best in our community,"
said Imam Mahamadou Soukouna, a Muslim cleric and family friend. "It's very, very, very sad what has happened to us today."
Magassa arrived in New York about 15 years ago, friends said. One neighbor said Magassa
and Mamadou Soumare were brothers. Fatoumata Soumare was from the village of Tasauirga and left Mali for the Bronx
about six years ago, friends said.
The death toll might have
been higher if not for the efforts of Soto and another neighbor, David Todd.
Todd, 40, who lived next
door, 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 the children out — and then jumping from the window.
Another neighbor, Elaine
Martin, said flames were shooting from the building when she arrived, and a shoeless woman in a nightgown stood crying in
"My kids is in there, my
kids is in there," the woman wailed to Martin.
Neighbor Charles O'Neal,
21, watched as firefighters passed along babies still in their pajamas. Later, O'Neal saw two of the children dead, splayed
across white plastic on the ground.
There were reports of 19
injuries, including four firefighters and an emergency medical worker. A 7-year-old girl remained in critical condition, while
a pair of 6-year-olds and a 24-year-old were in stable condition.
Part of the problem, according
to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was that residents apparently tried to extinguish the fire themselves.
"Once they were notified,
the Fire Department was on the scene in a little more than three minutes," the mayor said. "Sadly, that was not enough time."
The home did not have a
fire escape and was not required to under city building codes. There were no complaints or violations on record against the
building, constructed in 1901.
In February, Moussa Magassa
applied for a permit to divide the building into three apartments. Such a change would have required a fire escape or other
evacuation route, city buildings department spokeswoman Kate Lindquist said.
The dead, according to family
members, included Fatoumata Soumare, 42, and three children: a son, Dgibril, and 7-month-old twins, Sisi and Harouma. A fourth
child, 7-year-old Hasimy, escaped the carnage, 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,
Varying accounts had the
families' names spelled differently.
The fire was New
York City's deadliest since the 1990 Happy Land
social club blaze in the Bronx that killed 87 people.