NEW YORK – Two families who between them lost 10 relatives in a New York fire prepared to hold funeral services Monday at the Islamic Cultural Center in the city's Bronx borough, according to news reports.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who met Sunday with the victims' relatives at the center, said they were "rightly inconsolable" over the deaths of nine children and one adult.
"When you look into the eyes of the father, aunts, children who have survived who are related and see the tears flowing, it's impossible not to share their sense of grief," Spitzer said.
Following the funeral service, the wife and four children of the Magassa family were to be buried in a Muslim cemetery in the neighboring U.S. state of New Jersey. The Soumare family's five deceased children were to be flown to their parents' native African country of Mali for burial.
Meanwhile, hospital officials said the surviving fire victims were improving. Six-year-old Kadiatou Magassa was upgraded from critical to stable condition, Jacobi Medical Center spokeswoman Hannah Nelson said. Two patients at Lincoln Medical Center — 5-year-old Hatouma Magassa and Assia Magassa, 23 — were upgraded to fair condition, spokeswoman Jill Brooker said.
Spitzer told worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Center that the state of New York would do whatever it could for the victims' families.
"No amount of government wisdom or largesse can overcome the grief that this family is going through," he said. "What I do pledge to you is that we will do what we can do in material terms — in terms of housing and employment assistance at every level. Where we can help, we will help."
The grief of the survivors was compounded Friday night when 7-year-old Hassimi Soumare died from complications of smoke inhalation — the last of cab driver Mamadou Soumare's four children to die; his wife was also killed in the blaze.
The fire broke out Wednesday night in a three-story home the two families shared. All 22 residents, 17 of them children, hailed from Mali or traced their roots to the west African country.
The blaze — which investigators believe was caused by a space heater — was New York City's deadliest since the 1990 Happy Land blaze that killed 87 people in the Bronx.
It has led to an outpouring of support from area residents, many of whom stopped by the charred scene on Woodycrest Avenue to donate money or add to a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, candles and notes. Several organizations in the area have also raised thousands of dollars for the families.
On Sunday, a strong acrid smell still wafted from the burned-out house.
"It's just so sad that all those children died and the mother," said Sheila Simmons, who lives a few blocks and was paying her respects, though she did not know the families.
During a news conference Sunday at the scene, New York state senators Malcolm Smith and Eric Adams said the state Legislature should hold hearings on the safety of space heaters and other issues related to the fire.
"We're going to look at materials, building materials, are they up to code," said Smith, who represents parts of Southeast Queens and the Rockaways. "Secondly, we're going to look into the manufacture of these heaters, was the wiring up to code."
The government of Mali also has offered support to the families. On Sunday, Mali's foreign minister, Moctar Ouane, joined Spitzer at the Islamic Center before visiting the fire scene.
He thanked New Yorkers on behalf of Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure. "The people of Mali are deeply touched by the gestures of solidarity and compassion," he said.
The two fathers, Mamadou Soumare and Moussa Magassa, were finding strength in their religion, supporters said. On Sunday, Soumare read a pair of verses from the Qur'an to fellow worshippers at the Islamic Center.
• Photo Essay: 3-Alarm Blaze Kills 10 in New York City