At least 12 people, including four children, were killed while four others were fighting for their lives after a massive fire broke out Thursday in an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City.
“Tonight here in the Bronx, families have been torn apart,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Thursday night. The mayor called the event the “worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city.”
More than 170 firefighters were on the scene of the four-alarm fire, located at a five-story walk-up apartment house in the Bronx, just a block from the borough’s famed zoo, FOX5 New York reported. The firefighters worked to battle the blaze in temperatures as low as 15 degrees.
The four children killed in the fire were ages 1, 2, 7 and an unidentified boy, the FDNY announced. The other victims were three women aged 19, 37, 63, one unidentified woman and four unidentified men. Authorities have not named the victims. Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted: “We are closely monitoring the devastating fire in the Bronx. As always we are thankful for our first responders. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families tonight.
The fire, which was brought under control, broke out just before to 7 p.m. Thursday. Officials said a natural gas line may have caused the blaze but an investigation was pending.
A fire official told Pix 11 News the cause of the fire was deemed “suspicious” and there were “reports of a natural gas leak during firefight.”
The building had no elevator, the Associated Press reported, citing city records. Fire escapes were visible on the facade of the building.
The fire started on the first floor before it spread, officials said. The fire department responded to emergency calls within three minutes.
Witnesses described the scene of the fire and the panic from the building’s tenants.
One witness, Xanral Collins, told the New York Post he saw a father running toward the building, but was unable to enter.
“I saw him screaming, ‘My babies are dead! My babies are dead!'” Collins said.
“I heard a woman yelling, ‘We’re trapped, help!'”
Jamal Flicker, a witness told the New York Post he heard screams for help.
“The smoke was crazy, people screaming, ‘Get out!,” Flicker said. “I heard a woman yelling, ‘We’re trapped, help!'”
Neighborhood resident Robert Gonzalez, who has a friend who lives in the building, told the Associated Press she got out on a fire escape as another resident fled with five children.
“When I got here, she was crying,” Gonzalez said.
“I went to four hospitals, I can’t find him,”
Kwabena Mensah told the Daily News he feared his son, Emmanuel Mensah, a U.S. soldier, was one of the victims of the devastating fire.
“He came home from the Army about a week ago for the holidays,” he said.
Mensah said his son’s roommate saw the soldier before the fire broke out in the building.
“He was telling the roommate to not come out of the apartment because there was smoke. But when they rescued everyone from the windows, we couldn’t find him. I went to four hospitals, I can’t find him,” Mensah said.
De Blasio, at Thursday’s news conference, advised to “hold your families close and keep these families here in the Bronx in your prayers.”
One of the deadliest fires in recent memory happened elsewhere in the Bronx in 2007. Nine children and one adult died in a blaze sparked by a space heater.
Excluding the Sept. 11 attacks, it was the worst fire in the city since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the Bronx in 1990.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.