Mabinto Tonkara was pulling out grocery bags stuffed with clothes and other belongings when she walked out of an apartment building in Twin Parks Northwest on Thursday.
It came four days after a smoke fire broke out in the 19-storey tower killing 17 people, including eight children. Ms Tonkara, whose two family members died in the fire, has been staying in a hotel since it was evacuated on Sunday. Now she’s back to get some things back.
Like the other tenants, Ms. Tunkara, whose apartment is on the top floor of the Bronx Building, was told that since the unit was not considered uninhabitable, she could return to it as soon as possible. When asked if she was planning to do so, she did not hesitate to answer.
“No,” she said curtly. “There is a lot of smoke. Everything is covered in smoke. Everything.” She put her bag. “Look,” she said, extending her soot-covered palms.
On Thursday, city officials said 35 apartments in the 120-unit building had been ordered to be evacuated as a result of the fire. The rest was considered habitable. Smoke damage alone is not a reason for eviction under New York City building codes.
So even with funeral preparations for many of the victims and investigators exploring other conditions that may have contributed to the fire, which officials attributed to a running space heater and two doors that didn’t close properly, some of those who managed to escape to safety were frustrated by the their current circumstances.
A group of tenants, joined by local activists and clergy, gathered near the building on Thursday to voice two complaints: that money collected for victims’ families and other residents did not reach them fast enough and that tenants were encouraged to return as well. So.
“Families are not getting all the support they need,” Mona Davids of Social Impact Strategies, which organized the event, said of the slow pace of financial relief. She also said that some of the tenants were wary of returning to the disaster site, which left them in such a shambles.
Residents were told, “If your apartment is not destroyed, even though it smells of smoke, even though you will be traumatized again, you should go back to that building.”
A spokeswoman for the building’s owner, a coalition of three companies, said the number of tenants who were reluctant to return was small, that anyone who did not wish to stay in the building was being placed in nearby hotels, and that property owners were looking for permanent accommodation for those who chose not to return. To Twin Parks.
“No one will be displaced,” the spokeswoman said.
“No one was forced or told to leave the hotels” where they were housed in the aftermath of the fire, said Kate Smart, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams.
“Accommodation remains available to any resident wishing to stay in emergency hotels,” Ms Smart said. “The city continues to provide support and resources to all families affected by the Sunday fire.”
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Mr Adams said a “thorough investigation” into any outstanding violations in the building was continuing. He pointed out that many of these violations were recorded before the current owners acquired the property.
When asked about his relationship with Brick Gruber, a member of the mayor’s transition committee and founder of Camber Property Group, which has a stake in the group that now owns the building, Mr. Adams said, “I haven’t contacted him at all.”
“He’s one of about 1,000 people on my transition team,” Mr. Adams said.
Reassurances meant little to Walter Williams, Jr.
Mr. Williams, 62, said he received a call early Thursday from a representative of the company that operates the building.
Mr. Williams remembers the person who said, “I heard you managed to get out.” “Your apartment has a lot of smoke damage. It is considered livable, just need a paint job and a new door. We can have you back in a few days.”
He said the interaction overwhelmed him and prompted him to go into what he called “Martin Luther King Mode”.
“You’re trying to tell me, after stepping over the corpses, to come back,” he said in a soaring voice cracking with anger as he recalled what he experienced on Sunday. We ran out. I knew I stepped on a dead person. And they want me to come back.”
“You can’t be serious if you think you’ll be able to come back again,” he said.
Jeffrey C. Miss And Ed Shanahan Contribute to the preparation of reports.