At least 19 people, including nine children, have been killed after fire tore through a Bronx apartment building in what’s become New York City’s deadliest blaze in more than three decades.
Stefan Ringel, a senior adviser to Mayor Eric Adams, confirmed the death toll.
Thirteen people remained hospitalised in critical condition, Mr Ringel said on Monday morning (Australian time).
In all, more than five dozen people were hurt. Most of the victims had severe smoke inhalation, fire commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
Mr Adams called the fire’s toll “horrific”.
“This is going to be one of the worst fires that we have witnessed during modern times,” he said at an emotional briefing after the blaze.
Firefighters “found victims on every floor and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest”, Mr Nigro said.
“That is unprecedented in our city,” he said.
About 200 firefighters responded to the building on East 181st Street around 11am on Sunday (local time). Initial reports said the fire was on the third floor of the 19-storey building, with flames blowing out the windows.
News photographers captured images of firefighters entering the upper floors of the burning building on a ladder, multiple limp children being given oxygen after they were carried out and evacuees with faces covered in soot.
Resident Vernessa Cunningham, 60, said she raced home from church after getting an alert on her mobile phone that the building was on fire.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was in shock,” Ms Cunningham said from a nearby school where some residents gathered.
“I could see my apartment. The windows were all busted out. And I could see flames coming from the back of the building.”
Sunday’s fire originated in a duplex apartment spanning the second and third floors, Mr Nigro said. Firefighters found the door to the apartment open, he said, which apparently allowed the fire to quickly accelerate and spread smoke upward.
The fire is not believed to be suspicious, but the cause is being investigated, officials said.
Building resident Cristal Diaz, 27, told the New York Post she started putting wet towels at the bottom of her door after smelling smoke while drinking coffee in her living room.
“Everything was crazy,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do. We looked out the windows and saw all the dead bodies they were taking with the blankets.”
The 120-unit building in the Twin Parks North West complex was built in 1973 as part of a project to build modern, affordable housing in the Bronx.
The death toll is the highest for a fire in the city since a 1990 blaze at the Happy Land social club. It killed 87 people after a man set fire to the building after arguing with his former girlfriend and being thrown out of the Bronx club.
Sunday’s fire happened just days after 12 people, including eight children, were killed in a house fire in Philadelphia.