The grieving father of a woman killed in a New York Bronx apartment fire on Sunday recounted the moment he was separated from his daughter while his wife and other children struggled to escape the smoke.
Tijan Janneh, 64, told the Daily Mail about the terrifying moment he lost sight of his 27-year-old daughter Sera Janneh outside the 6C apartment of the Twin Park North West complex.
In the aftermath of the fire, which killed 17 and injured more than 50 people, Tijan and his heartbroken wife called hospitals trying to locate Sera, who had been rushed to receive medical care in critical condition amid the chaos.
Twenty-four hours later, the Janneh family learned about Sera's death.
Janneh said: "She was a nice woman. She was very caring, helping – she listened to us.
"When the fire broke [out], I'm the one who opened the door to the alarm sounding. It was 10 minutes to 11 in the morning… I [saw] the smoke.
"Then I called everybody [to come outside]. She was telling me 'Maybe we can stay,' but we [saw] people coming down and I said 'Let's go. We are all going'."
Tijan, his wife and five of his children who still live with them managed to get to the fourth floor but were sent back in by firefighters who were trying to control the flames and dissipate the smoke in the hallways in order to ensure a safe evacuation.
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He said: "The smoke was coming, heavy. We tried to turn back to walk. All the lights [were] off in the building.
"I was crawling – to go up – because I could not see nothing. When [I saw] the fire department… somebody pushed me and said 'go go'."
He sheltered inside his apartment with some of his children and waited for instructions from the fire crew, while his wife and some of his children did not make it back to the apartment and were eventually evacuated by firefighters.
His door was closed so the smoke wouldn't get inside and 45 minutes later they were told it was safe to leave.
Tijan said: "The fire department came, banged on the door and I said 'Where are they?' and they said 'They're all out. They're ok.' I said 'Ok, when they're ok, I'm good'."
But when downstairs Tijan was met by his inconsolable wife and was told by the fire department that two of his daughters had been taken to hospitals due to smoke inhalation.
One of them was sent to a hospital in Manhattan, while Sera was rushed in critical condition to another hospital.
Tijan said that for an entire day, they were not sure where she had been taken. When they found out where Sera was, they learned she had passed away.
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