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Family of 5, including 3 children, among the victims of the deadly NYC apartment fire

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now we hear the voices of people affected by an apartment building fire in New York City. Seventeen people died from smoke inhalation. And among the victims was a family of five, including three children. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang spoke with some of their loved ones.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Haja Dukureh and her husband, Haji, left Gambia more than a decade ago. And in their apartment in the Bronx, they raised 12-year-old Mustapha, 11-year-old Mariam and 5-year-old Fatoumata, who many called Fatima. Haji had a job at a fried chicken restaurant. And Haja worked 12-hour shifts as a home health aide and sent money to family back in West Africa, says Haja's aunt, Fatoumata Dukureh (ph).

FATOUMATA DUKUREH: She take care all of them, taking care of our mom, her siblings. All the family depend on her. They're all depending on her.

WANG: She says she and her niece talked on the phone late into the night before Sunday's fire. After she heard about the blaze, she tried to call Haja and her husband. When no one answered, she headed over to the building and found Haja's neighbors rushing out.

F DUKUREH: I'm asking people, do you guys see Haja? They telling me they don't see her. I'm crying. Like, I'm having a bad feeling. Like, I keep crying.

WANG: Eventually, Fatoumata got a call about a little girl who was taken to a hospital.

F DUKUREH: I didn't know that was Haja's daughter, Mariam until I look at her. It's Mariam. She's gone. Same thing Mustapha, gone. And Fatima, gone.

WANG: The next day, Fatoumata found out both Haja and Haji were gone from this world, too, and that she had lost someone who was not just her niece, but also her best friend.

F DUKUREH: Just a good person - good heart, clean heart. Love our family to the death.

WANG: Haja's cousin, Mariam Dukureh (ph), says she'll also miss the regular calls.

MARIAM DUKUREH: Haja love family. Haja like family too much.

WANG: Haja and Haji would often check in on her and her baby.

M DUKUREH: Every day, every day, call me.

WANG: Sometimes in the evening, right around bedtime, and sometimes at 6 in the morning to help her wake up and get ready for work.

M DUKUREH: Now I don't know who talking to me. I lost my family.

WANG: Many of the families are preparing for funeral services this week.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANGUS MACRAE'S "SOLSTICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.

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