FORDHAM HEIGHTS, The Bronx — Nightmares and memories that bring pain each time they recall them are what survivors of the deadly fire in the Bronx spoke about on Wednesday.
Many of them were allowed to return to the building at 181st Street and Tiebout Avenue briefly to retrieve some personal items. There, they expressed sadness over the 17 lives lost, as well as guilt over making it out alive when their friends and loved ones did not.
Yesbely Fernandez lived on the 15th floor of the 19-story building. It’s one of the two floors, along with the third floor, where fire doors did not close fully, according to FDNY inspectors.
That lack of closure ended up creating a chimney effect in the evacuation stairwell, inspectors said. It filled the stairwell with smoke, which overtook some evacuees, fatally.
Now, Fernandez said, the idea of returning to live here seems impossible.
“It feels tragic,” she said, after retrieving a few personal items from her apartment. “To know that the people that were once there aren’t there no more.”
“Who wants to be there, walking by somebody’s door, thinking they used to live there, but they don’t, because of the fire.”
The 17 people who lost their lives ranged in age from 2 to 50.
The entire Dukuray Family — Haji, 49, Haja Dukerey, his wife, 37, and their three children, Mustapha, 12, Mariam, 11, and Fatoumata, 5 — perished in the fire.
Their neighbor and friend, Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, and her three children, Fatoumala, 21, Nyumaaisha, 19; and Muhammed, 12, all passed away.
So did Hagi Jawara, 47, and his wife, Isatou Jabbie, 31.
Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, lost her life, along with her son Omar Jambang, 6.
Sera Janneh, 27, also died, as did Seydou Toure, 12, Haouwa Mahamadou, five, and Ousmane Konteh. Ousmane, 2, was the youngest victim of the fire.
On Wednesday afternoon, neighbors joined Leo Soto, the founder of the Miami-based Wall of Hope Foundation, to post photos of all of the fallen residents, along with flowers and other mementos, on a fence next to the building.
“A lot of time, when people hear these tragedies that happen, they focus on the casualty count,” said Soto. “They hear a number and move on with their lives.”
“What it does,” he continued, gesturing toward the memorial showing faces, “doesn’t allow you to move on. It makes you understand there’s a family behind each one of these pictures.”
Survivors of the tragedy said that for them, the people they lost mean even more, since the survivors experienced the passing of their neighbors and friends firsthand, even though the survivors managed to escape.
Julius Castro is one of those people who made it out alive, from the 18th floor.
He described a horribly unforgettable event, which haunts him.
“I can’t sleep,” he said. “[I] keep thinking about the dead bodies that passed away, and two bodies I saw in the stairwell and the dead dog [there], that’s why I can’t sleep. I’m afraid of having nightmares about it. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
Meanwhile, at Ar-Rahama Mosque, the house of worship a couple of blocks away where nearly all of the deceased and their families are members, prayers continued. Family members of the fallen were among the dozens of people there praying on Wednesday.
The families are continuing to make arrangements for funerals and burials of their loved ones. According to Muslim tradition, those ceremonies should happen as soon as possible. They’re expected before the end of the week.