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Members of a Bronx mosque mourn those killed in apartment building fire

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In New York City, at least a dozen people remain in critical condition after a deadly fire ripped through a 19-story apartment building in the Bronx over the weekend. At least 17 have died, including eight children. As the investigation continues, the surrounding community is mobilizing. This part of the Bronx is home to many West African immigrants, some of whom lived in that building. At a nearby mosque yesterday, people gathered to mourn and to pray.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in non-English language).

MARTINEZ: Gwynne Hogan from member station WNYC has been speaking with members of this community as they recover. Gwynne, you paid a visit to that mosque. What did you see in here?

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Yeah, A. This was the Masjid-ur-Rahmah. It's a mosque just a few blocks from the site of the fire. Men and women were coming in and out all day to pray and to be together. One woman was wailing. She told me that her sister was dead. People were comforting her. Religious leaders were handing out food and just trying to be there for congregants in such a terrible moment. I spoke to the mosque's imam, Musa Kabba. He's waiting to hear about some families' whereabouts, and he knows of other congregants who didn't survive.

MUSA KABBA: This is the same people who were praying with us in this center and the same children who passed away - they used to come here every Saturday and Sunday. It's going to be a little bit hard, but we will be able to face it.

HOGAN: He says his congregants have immigrated from all over West Africa - Gambia, Niger, Mali. Many of them are working class people - taxi drivers, restaurant, construction and health care workers.

MARTINEZ: And I understand that in this neighborhood, there's been an outpouring of support for survivors of this fire. Tell us about that.

HOGAN: Yeah, I went to the Gambian Youth Association. They have a little storefront about three blocks away from the site of the fire in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx. They have this mentoring organization, and they run a food pantry. Yesterday, they'd switched gears completely and converted their storefront into a drop-off donation center. They've also been collecting money online, and within a matter of hours, I watched bags of food and clothes and supplies stacking up halfway to the ceiling. Volunteers were turning up from different parts of the city to help, and, A, I was shocked. I looked back at their GoFundMe after a few hours. They had raised more than $600,000, essentially overnight. They're planning on giving that money directly to people who lived in the building.

MARTINEZ: That's good to hear. What about those survivors? I mean, where will they live? Their apartments are gone. They're destroyed. So what's happening with that?

HOGAN: The city has been providing emergency shelter in hotels through the Red Cross, and other people are staying with friends and family. We got word that actually some people were let back into the building last night, and the city has determined that the structure itself is sound. So some of these residents will be able to return to their residences at some point. Others will need to find new places to live. Momodou Sawaneh, the founder of the Gambian Youth Organization - he told me that's especially painful for what the building has meant for this community.

MOMODOU SAWANEH: This building is a sanctuary for Gambian community. I've known people who have been here for 30 years, 40 years. This building is an identity of Gambian community, so that's why it's very tragic.

HOGAN: The city says it's working with people to place them in longer-term housing, but we know that often that means if they can't find housing, they'll end up in the city's overcrowded shelter system.

MARTINEZ: That's Gwynne Hogan, member station WNYC in New York. Gwynne, thank you.

HOGAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.