New York City Fire Department commissioner Daniel Nigro said earlier Sunday that the fire has sent 32 people to hospitals in life-threatening conditions. 63 people were injured.
Negro told a news conference that a “broken electric heater” was the source of the fire. He said the heater was in the apartment bedroom, the fire gutted the room and then the entire apartment.
Negro said the apartment door was left open and smoke spread throughout the building when residents left their unit.
“This is a horrific, horrific, and painful moment for New York City, and the impact of this fire will bring a measure of pain and despair to our city,” Adams said.
About 200 members of the New York City Fire Department responded to the 19-story building fire at 333 East 181st Street. The FDNY said the fire started just before 11 a.m. in a duplex apartment on the second and third floors of the building.
Firefighters encountered “very thick smoke and very heavy fire” in the corridors.
Victims were found in stairs on every floor of the building, many in cardiac arrest, in what Negro said could be an unprecedented loss of life. He said most of the injuries were caused by smoke inhalation.
Negro said firefighters continued to try to rescue people from the building even though the air tank ran out. Some residents who tried to get out of the building “were unable to escape because of the amount of smoke”.
The FDNY released several photos of the scene showing stairs extending to apartment windows as well as a number of broken windows.
“This is going to be one of the worst fires we’ve seen in the modern era here in New York City,” Adams said.
“I am horrified by the devastating fire in the Bronx today,” New York Governor Cathy Hochhol said on Twitter. “My heart goes out to the loved ones of all those we tragically lost, all those affected and our heroic firefighters. The entire state of New York stands with New York City.”
The apartment where the fire broke out is 50 years old, and consists of 120 units, according to building records.
According to the city’s building records, no major irregularities or complaints were registered against the building. Previous minor irregularities were corrected by the property and structural irregularities are not listed.
Apartment fire affects Muslims and immigrants
Adams said the building where the fire occurred was inhabited by a Muslim majority, with many immigrants from Gambia, a small country on the west coast of Africa.
The mayor said one of the priorities would be to ensure that Muslim funerals and burial rites were respected. The other is the search for Muslim leaders to connect with the population.
Adams added that the names of people requesting government assistance would not be handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We want people to feel comfortable moving forward, and it’s essential that we connect with those on the ground to make sure they get that message and that word through,” Adams said.
New York City’s First Deputy Commissioner for Emergency Management Christina Farrell told Phil Mattingly on CNN Sunday that residents who live in the apartment block are now housed in a nearby middle school.
“We have all the residents here. We have been able to provide food, a warm space, water, whatever short-term needs they have. People have brought their pets, so we are in the process of finding shelter for people this evening,” Farrell said. “We are working with the Red Cross, we have hotel rooms and resources. Others are available. So we make sure every family has a safe and warm place to sleep tonight.”
Farrell said a service center will be set up on Monday.
“We hope that many of them will be able to return to their apartment in the coming days,” she said. “But for people who are out for long periods, we will work with them and with the state to provide them with adequate housing.”
Hochul, who appeared at a news conference on Sunday, said she had met with survivors of the fire, including a mother who was the only survivor in her family.
“It is impossible for me to go into that room, where dozens of families live in such grief, and suffer, and see it in the eyes of the mother carrying her, who lost her entire family,” she said.
As she prepares her new budget this week, Hochhol said she will create a compensation fund to help provide fire victims with money for housing, burial costs and other necessities.
“Tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we begin to rebuild,” Hochul said. “We are rebuilding their lives and giving them hope, especially those who came all the way from Africa [from] The Gambia is looking for a better life here in this wonderful town of the Bronx.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also spoke at the conference and said many forms of assistance are being vetted at the federal level and will include housing and tax assistance as well as immigration assistance, “so families can be reunited.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the region in which The Gambia is located. It is in West Africa.
CNN’s Brian Gingras contributed to this report.