The heart-wrenching scene played out at the Islamic Cultural Center on East 166th Street, about two miles from the high-rise that filled quickly filled with smoke one week ago, killing nine adults and eight children ranging in age from 2 to 50.
“One week they were with us … now they’re gone,” said Imam Musa Kabba of the Masjid-Ur-Rahmah mosque.
Members of the tight-knit Gambian community that bore the brunt of the fire’s devastation packed into the Islamic Culture Center for the mass funeral for 15 of the victims.
Services for two of the children were held at a Harlem mosque last week.
Among the mourners Sunday was Mayor Eric Adams who listened as parts of the service was delivered in the West African language Soninke, spoken by about 10 percent of Gambians.
“I am here to express the pain all New Yorkers are experiencing,” said Adams, who was joined at the funeral by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, as well as two officials from the Gambian government.
Meanwhile, outside, hundreds of others gathered in the street amid freezing cold temperatures to watch the funeral on screens.
“This is a sad situation. But everything comes from God. Tragedies always happen, we just thank Allah that we can all come together,” said Haji Dukuray, who lost five family members in the fire.
Organizers wanted the funeral to be a public event to shed light on the devastating toll the tragedy has had on the community.
“There’s outcry. There’s injustice. There’s neglect,” Sheikh Musa Drammeh said of the incident.
Officials believe the fire was started by a malfunctioning space heater inside a third-floor duplex, sending thick and suffocating clouds of smoke swirling throughout the 19-story building in the Tremont section.
All of the victims died of smoke inhalation.
Since the fire, residents of the building have sounded off on their landlords, saying the fire alarms were faulty, the heat was inconsistent and the building was poorly maintained.
Records show the building was cited for more than two dozen violations and complaints — despite $25 million in state loans for repairs — and was noted for serious safety lapses after a fire all the way back in 1986.
City inspectors repeatedly cited the Bronx high-rise for failing to maintain its self-closing apartment doors — a key defense against rapidly spreading blazes and something the mayor has said could have saved many of the 17.
Dozens remain hospitalized from smoke inhalation, some still on ventilators unable to breathe.
Officials from city and state agencies are investigating the fire, and on Sunday, Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged $2 million to support the survivors.
“We want the world to know that they died because they lived in the Bronx,” Drammeh said. “If they lived in Midtown Manhattan, they would not have died. Why? Because they wouldn’t need to use space heaters. This is a public outcry. Therefore, there has to be responsibility from the elected officials to change the conditions that causes death every single day.
Source: New York Post