Barely taking office, the new mayor of New York, Eric Adams, also a former police officer, had to face one of the worst fires the city has known in more than 30 years. Sunday morning, a 19-story building caught fire in the Bronx neighborhood, at 181st Street, because of a backup heater. At least nineteen people have died, including nine children. The fire also left around 60 injured. Eric Adams, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer rushed to the scene to see the extent of the damage.
The building housed in particular many Muslim migrants, mainly from Gambia. Eric Adams quickly clarified that everything would be done to respect Muslim funeral rites. He also promised that the names of people who apply for government assistance will not be passed on to immigration and customs services.
We’ve lost 19 of our neighbors today. It’s a tragedy beyond measure. Join me in praying for those we lost, especially the 9 innocent young lives that were cut short. https://t.co/YWQyBLyLK8
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) January 9, 2022
Two hundred firefighters responded to the scene. They were quickly confronted with scenes of panic. The fire was apparently started in a bedroom on the third floor, but thick smoke was seen up to the roof, which is “totally unusual”, according to fire chief Daniel Nigro. Victims, in cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest, were found on each floor. Eric Adams praised the courage of the firefighters, “some of whom continued to go inside to save lives when they did not even have oxygen in their tanks”.
While the doors that remained open have helped to accelerate the spread of the fire, the drama raises the issue of the dilapidation of some low-cost housing in the city. The 120-apartment building was built in 1972, according to the city registry. However, the building has not been the subject of any major violation or complaint in the past fifty years, notes CNN.
A mother who lost her whole family
Eric Adams, who has campaigned primarily on issues of security and social inequality, called it an “atrocious day”. Beside him, during a press conference organized near the devastated building, Governor Kathy Hochul spoke of the pain of survivors met in a shelter, including that of a mother “who has lost all her family” . Like Eric Adams, she mentioned the financial assistance that would be available to the families of the victims, through the creation of a special compensation fund.
Last week, a similar fire left Philadelphia in mourning, killing 12 people, including eight children. But in the Bronx, it’s another fire that some locals remember: that of the Happy Land nightclub, in 1990, intentionally started by a man after a settling of scores. He had made 87 deaths.