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Victims of the deadly New York fire will be commemorated on Sunday

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Victims of the deadly New York fire will be commemorated on Sunday

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Plans are underway for a large communal memorial service on Sunday for the victims of New York’s deadliest fire in more than three decades.

Seventeen people, including eight children, were killed when a fire broke out on January 9 at a high-rise residential building in the working-class neighborhood of Fordham Heights in the Bronx, a New York borough with a large African community. and Latin.

The funeral was held Wednesday at a mosque in the Harlem neighborhood for Seydou Touré, 12, and his sister, Haouwa Mahamadou, 5.

Community leaders are preparing to commemorate the remaining 15 victims, who all had links to the West African country Gambia, on Sunday, a week after the tragic fire.

The full-scale funeral will be held at the Bronx Islamic Cultural Center, according to Imam Musa Kabba of Masjid-Ur-Rahmah. He said the mosque is where some of the victims’ families gathered to grieve.

Kabba also said funeral plans were complicated by the difficult task of identifying the dead and contacting next of kin.

Community activists have pleaded for more help for survivors who have struggled to access services, including financial assistance, advocates said at a recent press conference.

The Gambian Youth Organization, a Bronx-based group that has raised over $1 million through an online campaign, is among a number of organizations raising money for those affected by the fire .

Robert Agyemang, New York director of African Communities Together, said in an interview with VOA, “This kind of tragedy is not something any organization should be left to fend for itself”, adding that his organization “follows their example” in reference to other groups.

“We help gather the materials. We respond to interpretation needs when they need city resources promised by the mayor, state resources promised by the governor, and all those other entities that we normally interact with. base,” Agyemang said.

“We African communities… are working with the city on several projects and we have been in communication with that city as well as trying to make sure that the Gambian families in particular have been taken care of and have all the resources they need,” Agyemang added.

New York Mayor Eric Adams, center, speaks to reporters after visiting the Masjid-Ur-Rahmah Mosque in the Bronx borough of New York on Friday, January 14, 2022.

Some of the families are struggling to decide whether to bury their loved ones in their home country, The Gambia, or in the United States.

The Gambian government has said it is ready to help in any way possible, including accepting requests for the repatriation of the deceased, according to Alhagie Ebou Cham, president of the Association of United Gambians and Honorary Consul of The Gambia.

Meanwhile, investigators are trying to determine why the security doors did not close when the fire broke out, allowing thick smoke to billow through the 19-story tower and kill the victims.

The city medical examiner’s office said all of the victims suffocated from heavy smoke in the building, where officials said a faulty electric heater started the fire. Many people managed to escape, but others died as they tried to descend the stairs.

The deadly New York blaze and the Jan. 5 blaze that killed 12 loved ones in a Philadelphia townhouse duplex, where officials said none of the six smoke detectors worked, are the worst residential fires ever. in either city for years.

Housing advocates say it’s no coincidence that both fires happened in housing intended for low-income residents.

“The first thought when I read the news was, ‘I’m certain from the building and the location that this was low-income housing,'” Jenna said. Collins, a housing lawyer with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. fire in New York.

“I was even less surprised to hear reports now that it was a heater that caused this fire,” she noted, saying it’s not unusual for residential properties owned or subsidized by the government have inadequate heating during the winter.

Soaring house prices have pushed low-income Americans even further away from the dream of home ownership, while public or subsidized housing available in some cities plagued by poor maintenance conditions increases the risk of disaster.

“This is housing that has been, for the most part, neglected,” said Lena Afridi, acting executive director of the Pratt Center for Community Development in New York.

“People are living where they can afford to live, either way, and people have moved to places that might not be safe because that might be better than homelessness. But that shouldn’t be the dichotomy we are establishing.”

Afridi said she believed a lack of maintenance contributed to the blaze, citing reports that residents relied on space heaters for warmth and ignored the fire alarm because they had already heard so much false alarms.

US President Joe Biden proposed investing billions of dollars in affordable housing in his Build Back Better proposal, but the massive spending bill hit deadlock in a party-divided Congress.

Jackson Mvunganyi of VOA’s English to Africa service contributed to this report. Some information for this report comes from Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press.

Victims of the deadly New York fire will be commemorated on Sunday

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