Muslim community rallies to support victims of deadly Bronx fire

NEW YORK: Members of the Muslim community in New York’s Bronx neighborhood, where many Muslim Americans died in an apartment building fire on January 9, have rallied together to help residents with support and donations .

At least 17 West African American Muslims died in the fire, eight of whom were under the age of 18. Their Islamic funeral will take place on January 16 at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx.

“The smoke alarms went off, but no one really took it seriously because they go off all the time, so no one knows when it’s a real emergency,” Bintou Kamara, 14, said. , to Arab News.

Bintou, who studies at Harlem Prep High School, has lived in the building, 333 East 181st Street, with her family since she was young.

Front view of 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. (Provided)

She and her family initially thought the fire was coming from an adjacent building until they started hearing cries for help and sirens.

“We heard people screaming for help. We saw firefighters so we realized this was our house,” Bintou said.

“We took a scarf and waved outside, shouting, ‘Help, help!’ It took them about an hour or two to get to us. We were on the 12th floor.

Firefighters said a faulty electric heater started the blaze.

“Sometimes the heating is on, other times it’s off. That’s why everyone in this building has a heater,” Bintou told Arab News.

“People don’t want to freeze. It’s winter. It is cold. I have a heater in my room. My mother has a radiator. Everyone has a radiator. If the building was just providing heat, if they were just doing what they were supposed to, none of this would have happened.

According to New York firefighters, the flames did not spread to the entire building. Instead, thick black smoke engulfed the stairs and seeped into the apartments, blocking the only emergency exit and causing several deaths and hospitalizations.

Fire marshal Daniel Nigro told local media that an apparent malfunction of the doors in front of the building and on the 15th floor caused smoke to spread rapidly throughout the building.

Nigro said the front door to the apartment and a door on the 15th floor should have closed automatically and mitigated the spread of smoke, but the doors remained fully open. It was unclear whether the doors had failed mechanically or had been manually disabled.

But malfunctions in the building were not uncommon, residents told Arab News. Fatoumatta Kamara, Bintou’s older sister, said that among the problems they faced were leaky sinks, peeling paint and pests.

The Kamara family’s 12th floor apartment at 333 East 181st Street in the Bronx, New York. Signs of the fire fighting are visible. (Provided)

“Usually when you say something to the owner, either it’s not fixed properly, or it damages quickly, or it only comes after a while, so you have to keep filing the same complaint over and over on some household problems,” Fatoumatta, a 19-year-old student at Fordham University, said. Eventually, after growing tired of long waits, the family would do the repairs themselves, she said.

Nearly a week after the fire, many families are still living in a hotel or with relatives, without communication with the owner of the building. Attorneys for the families of the victims have filed a class action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in compensation from building owners and city and state officials.

Despite several problems in the apartment where the fire took place, Bintou and Fatoumatta expressed their affection for the community they have built over the years.

The 120-unit building is occupied by predominantly low-income communities of diverse backgrounds, some of whom are Muslim immigrants of West African descent. The building is within a 15-mile radius of several mosques, which began mobilizing immediately to help the residents of the building.

Muslim women gather to organize clothing donations and distribute them to victims of the deadly Bronx Fire at Masjid Al-Rahama in Bronx, New York. (Provided)

Just outside Masjid Ar-Rahman, a nearby mosque, several cars were double-parked late Thursday night. Inside the mosque, volunteers huddled around hundreds of donated items – toiletries, snacks and clothing for men, women and children – sorting them into different bags.

“After sorting them out, we have family members of people who live in the building coming to pick up new items immediately, and we’ve also sent some to hotels,” said Jenabu Simaha, 24.

Masjid Taqwa, another mosque in the area, collected cash donations for the families, and Masjid Al-Fawzaan assigned a drop-off location for the donations. Many items are brand new.

“What gave us a lot of comfort was the community,” Simaha said. “Not only the Muslim community, but also the Bronx community. We have had so many different volunteers and community members in this area come out to support us.

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