Show caption The residential apartment building damaged by a major fire in the Bronx borough of New York City. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock New York Bronx fire: all 17 victims who died, including eight children, identified Tenants file $3bn class action lawsuit against building’s owners alleging they ‘had actual notice of defective conditions’ Maya Yang Wed 12 Jan 2022 18.44 GMT Share on Facebook
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All 17 victims who died in the New York apartment fire tragedy on Sunday have been identified, with the devastating toll including eight children.
The New York City medical examiner’s office reported that all the victims died of smoke inhalation and their deaths had been ruled accidental.
Fire officials have determined that a malfunctioning electric space heater started the fire in the 19-story building in the Bronx on Sunday morning, amid freezing weather. Meanwhile, companies associated with the building’s ownership and city authorities have been accused by tenants of neglecting vital safety measures there for years.
Although flames damaged only a small part of the building, smoke poured through the open doors of a 15th-floor apartment and turned stairwells – the only way to escape a building deemed too tall for external fire escape staircases – into dark, choking death traps.
According to Daniel Nigro, New York City’s fire commissioner, some were unable to escape because of the smoke. Others became incapacitated as they tried to escape, as more than 200 firefighters struggled to bring residents down fire department ladders or the stairwells.
Survivors described the terrible scene, with one comparing it to “a war zone”.
Eight of the fatalities were children, including a two-year-old boy. Police have released their identities.
The victims included seven women, Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, Foutmala Drammeh, 21, Nyumaaisha Drammeh, 19, Haja Dukureh, 37, Sera Janneh, 27, Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, and Isatou Jabbie, 31; two men, Haji Dukary, 49, and Hagi Jawara, 47; five boys, Muhammed Drammeh, 12, Mustapha Dukureh, 12, Seydou Toure, 12, Omar Jambang, six, and the youngest victim of the fire, Ousmane Konteh, two; and three girls, Fatoumata Dukureh, five, Mariam Dukureh, 11, and Haouwa Mahamadou, five.
Dozens more residents have been hospitalized and at least 13 were still in critical condition on Wednesday morning.
Also, the first court action was brought in relation to the tragedy when tenants filed a $3bn class action lawsuit against the building’s previous and current owners.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday by married couple Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez, both tenants of the building, alleges that the landlords “had actual notice of defective conditions”. The couple is seeking $1bn in compensatory damages for alleged negligence and an additional $2bn in punitive damages on behalf of them and “all others similarly situated”.
Another plaintiff, Jessika Valdez, told the New York Post that the door to her 18th-floor apartment “never closed on its own” during the 15 years that she has lived there.
“We always had to pull it closed,” Valdez said, adding: “If you’re renting to me, it’s OK if you don’t have an emotional tie to me, but you have to protect your investment. I’m your investment.”
In addition, a separate notice of claim was filed against New York City and various entities, including the department of buildings, department of housing, preservation and development, the former Mayor Bill de Blasio and the housing commissioner, Melanie La Rocca.
The notice, which seeks $1bn each for everyone who joined the planned class action case, said the shutting devices, or “returns”, on self-closing apartment doors “become rusty over time and the springs on the door returns need to be replaced every time”.
It went on to allege that city officials “failed in every way” to prevent the tragedy.
The notice detailed more than two dozen complaints and violations cited against the building since 2014.
According to records, the citations include vermin infestation and faulty elevators, despite the $25m in state loans for repairs. The authorities have been accused of knowing of defects for years and paying lip service to safety issues.
According to Nigro, the building’s doors and reports of malfunctioning smoke alarms will be a key focus of the investigation.
The NYC law department has issued a response to the lawsuits, saying: “This was a horrific tragedy and too many lives were lost. There is an active investigation into this tragic incident. We’ll review the claim.”
Similarly, the Bronx Park Phase II Preservation, LLC, a consortium of owners, said, “We are devastated by this terrible tragedy and are cooperating fully with the fire department and other agencies as they continue to investigate.”