Frantic quest for missing people in Bronx fire: ‘We are as yet holding up’

They were all relatives who were still missing More than 24 hours later a fatal fire in a Bronx apartment building killed 17 people, including eight children. More than a dozen members of the Masjid-ur-Rahmah mosque are thought to have died in the blaze, Imam Musa Kabba said.

“We give them pictures. We name them. We give them phone numbers. We are still waiting to identify them, “said Kabba.

The city released a partial list of those killed Tuesday night. Rescue chaos and significant numbers of victims have complicated the identification process.

On Sunday, more than 60 fire victims initially went to four different hospitals in the Bronx. Among them died within seventeen hours, all deaths due to severe smoke inhalation. About a dozen critically ill patients were stabilized at a local hospital and later transferred to special burn unit facilities in Manhattan, Westchester County and other parts of the Bronx.

Many survivors were also treated for severe smoke inhalation, which could lead to anesthesia due to lack of oxygen. Not everyone carries an identity card, and some residents share the same name with other family members. Multiple members of a single family were close in age, also adding to the confusion.

Features such as tattoos, body jewelry, nail art and scars were used to combine the identity of the deceased, the medical examiner’s office said.

The office used DNA matching to collect DNA from relatives to confirm identities and notify family members after the match, City Hall officials said. The deliberate process has contributed to the delay in revealing the names of the dead, officials said.

Shivan Hatson, executive director of the city’s forensic investigation, said forensic examiners were also aware of language and religious differences. Many of the building’s occupants relocated from the Gambia to the Bronx, a small West African country with a large Muslim population.

“Celebrations – these things don’t just spread in life, they lead to death,” Hotson said.

Age, too, was a complex factor: without any identification or slightly prior medical history, children posed a particular challenge. “Kids don’t have all the records,” such as fingerprints or dental records, which adults can have, Hutson said.

As the flames subside and the deadly smoke billows, a new panic spreads: other residents, family members and friends become uncertain about the condition of loved ones. Hour after hour, and many people across New York and the Gambia have spent hours in painful turmoil, not sure who is alive or dead.

Some families call every hospital in the area to look for missing relatives. Others visited on foot, desperate for answers.

Aid staff at Monroe College, which serves as a temporary emergency response center, rely on an unofficial list of dead, injured, missing and displaced people compiled by a local community board member. He has tried to write the name, contact information and requirements of every person present in the college in an ad hoc intake list.

Data collection is difficult, partly due to language barriers, says CC in Abdulai, a community outreach worker for CAIR-NY, which supports Muslims. Some residents speak English, but others speak only French and many different languages ​​in West Africa.

Fear of immigration authorities remains among some unregistered residents. And some families, he said, are deeply personal or shocked and unwilling to talk about their situation.

Dustin Jones watched television footage of the Bronx fire from his apartment in the Chelsea area of ​​Manhattan, frantically phoning a friend who thought he lived in the building. Fortunately, he made a mistake – he lived a few blocks away – but his relief did not last long.

He quickly learned that he knew two occupants of the building: Ramel Thompson, 44, and Dorel Anderson, 38, a couple. The three met through a tight-knit disability community: Thompson and Anderson both have cerebral palsy and Jones is an advocate for disability rights.

After failing to contact the couple, Jones and about 100 others, many of them relatives and members of the disabled community, began a 24-hour search for them, mostly online.

He further added that the couple lived on the 13th floor and were particularly concerned about Anderson, who uses a wheelchair.

Jones said he never considered contacting the city for help. Instead, he spread the word about the missing couple on social media, reaching out to their media contacts and calling friends for information, including a firefighter at the scene. “We live in an age of social media, and I’ve seen miracles happen,” Jones said.

A relative finally found the couple on Monday at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, where they were transferred to an advanced burn unit. Anderson and Thompson were still receiving medical treatment; Anderson’s wheelchair was missing.

Brenna Elleston, 27, said she heard her best friend Best Janneh, 27, went missing on Sunday. Elston assumed that Janneh was in the hospital, unknown. He called a few close friends and asked them to come to him. Their call went straight to voicemail.

So Aliston posted an Instagram post about his friend and asked followers to share it, “Whether they know someone working at a nearby hospital, if they see his face, they can match it with a picture.” Even then there was no luck.

Uncertain, Elston and some friends planned to take pictures around the Bronx. When he tells Janneh’s family about the plan, they tell him Janna is dead.

Mohammad Kamra was also working a shift as a taxi driver when he learned that his family had caught fire.

He and a relative frantically tried to identify their entire family. Soon, they find 6-year-old Jabu, 3-year-old Abubakari and baby Cice, not yet 1-year-old. But it took Kamra a few hours to find his wife, Fatumatia, or his eldest daughter, 8-year-old Maryam.

A volunteer from the Gambian Youth Organization in the Bronx donates clothing to survivors of an apartment building fire on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. Officials initially said Sunday that 19 people had been killed in the blaze, but Mayor Eric Adams revised the number to 17 at a news conference Monday. David de Delgado / The New York Times

Christina Kharem, a teacher and special education instructor at Mary’s school, spent her days on the phone with her principal, calling a hospital in the suburbs of the city, trying to identify Mary and her mother, while Kamra searched privately.

On Sunday evening he found Maryam and Fatumatia. Each member of the family was in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator.

With Kamra’s permission, Kharem created an online fundraiser for the Kamra family around 3 a.m. Monday, asking for grants for both money and supplies. They received their first donation before dawn.

By Monday afternoon, Kamra had met four members of her hospitalized family and was going to see a fifth.

He was relieved that he had found his family, he was hopeful on Monday night that they would recover. “For me, at the moment, it’s still not a bad memory,” he said.

But for some, the hope is dashed by the passing of hours without news.

Youssef Jawara told CBS New York that he called 311 more than 40 times to find out the fate of his younger brother and brother-in-law, who lived in a block of buildings.

“We tried everything they could,” said Javara, 47. “Nothing is working for us now.”

He said he understood the procedure had to be followed. “But we need to stop it to know if they are alive or dead,” Javara said. “It simply came to our notice then. We are not asking for the bodies right now. Is he alive or dead? That’s what we need to know. “

Around 4:30 pm on Monday, Javara texted a reporter that he had received the following words: Her brother and brother-in-law had died in the fire.

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