The Bronx skyscraper where 19 people died in a fire on Sunday was home to many African immigrants who chose their apartments for the close-knit community and proximity to local mosques.
A significant number of the building’s residents were observant Muslims from The Gambia, Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference on Sunday.
He spoke of respecting cultural and religious needs, especially related to funeral rites, and stressed that support would be provided regardless of immigration status.
Governor Kathy Hochul reassured residents of the building on East 181st Street that she would not forget them. She announced plans to create a victims’ compensation fund to help find new homes and pay for burials and other costs.
“Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we start to rebuild,” she said. “We are rebuilding their lives and giving them hope. Especially those who came from Africa. Gambians looking for a better life right here in this great borough, the Borough of the Bronx. They are part of our family.
Smoke spread throughout the 19-story building and victims suffered severe smoke inhalation, said Daniel A. Nigro, the city’s fire marshal. More than 60 residents were injured.
Hasane Badr’s family, a total of 11 people from Mali, including her parents and siblings, lived in a three-bedroom apartment on the third floor. Two siblings, both children, were killed, he said, adding that a 25-year-old cousin was still missing.
At Jacobi Medical Center, Mr. Badr was awaiting news from his 12-year-old brother, who was suffering from severe smoke inhalation. A 5-year-old sister, also injured, was in another hospital.
He said there was no time to mourn or even think about funerals yet.
“I think like I’m dreaming, it’s not true. You hear people cry, my God, “Mr. Badr, 28, said.” To be honest I don’t believe it right now. “
He said his family had lived in the skyscraper for at least six years, drawn in part for its connection to Africa and the availability of nearby mosques.
Ahouss Balima, 20, who lived on the ninth floor with his parents and three younger sisters, all from Burkina Faso, said the community of the building was “very close”.
“We meet all the time, apartment to apartment,” Balima said. “We all know each other. “
At St. Barnabas Hospital, Musa Kabba, a local imam, said he waited with distressed relatives for the victims to be identified. Several residents visited his mosque on Webster Avenue, the Masjid-Ur-Rahmah, he said. The mosque is a four-minute walk from the building.
“We know people have died,” Kabba said. “We don’t know who they are.
Salim Drammeh, president of the Gambian Youth Organization, said the non-profit center was a few blocks from the building and opened to collect donations and provide emotional support to the community. He said contributions, both in person and to an online fundraiser, had just started to “flow”.
“This is how our community is; we love this community, ”said Mr. Drammeh, 26. “Whenever someone has problems, we show up for each other.
Ana Ley, Eduardo Medina and Little Sean contributed reports.