Working the night shift in a livery cab, Mamadou Soumare answered his cellphone to hear his wife shrieking, trapped with their children...
NEW YORK — Working the night shift in a livery cab, Mamadou Soumare answered his cellphone to hear his wife shrieking, trapped with their children inside a burning building, desperate for help.
“She said, ‘We have a fire.’ She was screaming,” he said.
Soumare raced to the three-story house near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx early Thursday but was unable to save his wife, Fatoumata, son or 7-month-old twins.
Moussa Magassa, who shared the home with Soumare, received his grim phone call while on a business trip to their native Mali, in West Africa. He was every bit as helpless as word came that five of his 11 children died in the fast-moving fire.
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The fire was New York City’s deadliest in 17 years, not including the Sept. 11 attacks. The blaze claimed nine victims — eight children and one adult from the two families, all relatives who shared the house. The fire, believed to be accidental, spread from the basement and trapped victims on the upper floors, with one screaming mother tossing children into the night in hopes of saving their lives — then jumping herself. The woman survived.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Soumare said. “I love her. I love my wife.”
The street outside was filled with screams: “Help me! Help me! Please! Please!” Neighbor Edward Soto raced toward the fire through the frigid night air, then looked in disbelief as an infant fell from the building and through the smoke.
“All I see is just a big cloud of white dust, and out of nowhere comes the first baby,” said Soto, who caught the child with another neighbor, David Todd. Moments later, Soto caught a second child hurled through a shattered window by a woman trapped inside. Both of the children survived.
The fire, which raged for two hours, was sparked by an overheated space heater near a mattress in the basement, officials said. The home had two smoke alarms but neither had batteries.
Magassa immigrated to New York about 15 years ago, friends said. One neighbor said Magassa and Soumare were brothers. Fatoumata Soumare came from the village of Tasauirga and left for the Bronx about six years ago, friends said.
Neighbors described a close-knit family, with the children often seen playing in the yard or in the street with water guns and scooters. Authorities said 22 people, including 17 children, lived in the house.
Todd, 40, who lives in an adjoining apartment building, said one child was already on the ground in the yard when he arrived with Soto outside the burning home. “Please God, help my children!” the woman inside screamed while tossing kids through the broken glass of an upstairs window — and then plunging herself.
Among the dead, according to family members, were Fatoumata Soumare, 42, and three of her children: a son, Dgibril, and 7-month-old twins, Sisi and Harouma. A fourth child, 7-year-old Hasimy, escaped, her father said.
Authorities identified the members of the Magassa family as four brothers — Bandiougou, 11, Mahamadou, 8, Abudubucary, 5, and Bilaly, 1 — and their sister, 3-year-old Diaba.
There were reports of 19 injuries, including four firefighters and an emergency medical worker. A 7-year-old girl remained in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said, while a pair of 6-year-olds and a 24-year-old were in stable condition.