NEW YORK – Mourners prayed outside a mosque Monday as friends and strangers gathered for the funerals of nine children and a woman who died in a fire that raced through their home in the Bronx.
A half-block area outside the Islamic Cultural Center was covered with a blue tarp, where dozens of people kneeled in prayer ahead of the service. Neighbors and supporters who never knew the family gathered behind barricades across the street.
"I haven't stopped crying yet," said Ethel Hogue, 63. "You understand with adults, but children who haven't had a chance? The whole area is numb. We just can't believe this has happened."
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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also visited the mosque before the funerals Monday to meet with the grieving families.
Businessman Moussa Magassa's five children were to be buried following the service in a Muslim cemetery in New Jersey. Mamadou Soumare's wife and their four children were to be flown to the parents' native Mali in West Africa for burial.
The extended family shared the three-story home a few blocks from Yankee Stadium.
Soumare had been on the job as a cab driver late Wednesday night when his wife called him from the burning house shortly before she died. His grief was compounded two days later with word that his only surviving child, 7-year-old Hassimi, had also died of complications from smoke inhalation.
Supporters say both men have found strength in their religion.
At a prayer service Sunday at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx, where the funerals were planned Monday afternoon, Soumare read a pair of well-known verses from the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
In English, the verses mean: "Be sure we shall test you, with something of fear, and hunger, some loss, in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere — who say, when afflicted with calamity: 'To Allah we belong and to Him is our return."'
Gov. Eliot Spitzer met with relatives of the victims Sunday and described them as inconsolable.
"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.
Authorities believe the fire started with a space heater in the home. Neither father was home at the time.
The surviving fire victims were improving, hospital officials said. The condition of 6-year-old Kadiatou Magassa was upgraded from critical to stable, and 5-year-old Hatouma Magassa and Assia Magassa, 23, were upgraded to fair condition.
The government of Mali also has offered support to the families. On Sunday, Mali's foreign minister, Moctar Ouane, 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.