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Some Tenants Wary of Returning to Bronx Building After Deadly Fire

Mabintou Tunkara was lugging grocery bags stuffed with clothes and other belongings when she walked out of the Twin Parks North West apartment building on Thursday.

It was four days after a smoky fire at the 19-story tower killed 17 people, including eight children. Ms. Tunkara, two of whose family members died in the blaze, had been staying at a hotel since evacuating on Sunday. Now she was back to retrieve a few things.

Like other tenants, Ms. Tunkara, whose apartment is on the Bronx building’s top floor, had been told that because the unit had not been deemed uninhabitable, she could move back in as soon as she liked. Asked whether she planned to, she did not hesitate in her answer.

“No,” she said curtly. “There is too much smoke. Everything is covered with smoke. Everything.” She set down her bag. “Look,” she said, holding out her soot-covered palms.

City officials said on Thursday that a total of 35 apartments in the 120-unit building were under orders to vacate as a result of the fire. The rest were considered habitable. Smoke damage alone is not typically considered a reason to vacate under New York City’s building codes.

So even as funeral preparations were made for many of the victims and investigators explored what other conditions may have contributed to the fire, which officials have attributed to a running space heater and two doors that did not close properly, some of those who were able to flee to safety were frustrated by their current circumstances.

A group of tenants, joined by local activists and religious leaders, gathered near the building on Thursday to voice two complaints: that money being raised for victims’ families and other residents was not reaching them quickly enough and that tenants were being encouraged to return too soon.

“The families are not getting all the support that they need,” Mona Davids of Social Impact Strategies, which organized the event, said of the slow pace of financial relief. She also said some tenants were wary of going back to the site of a catastrophe that had left them badly shaken.

“If your apartment was not destroyed, even though it’s reeking of smoke, even though you’re going to be re-traumatized, you must go back into that building,” she said residents were being told.

A spokeswoman for the building’s owner, a consortium of three companies, said that the number of tenants who had balked at returning was small, that anyone who did not wish to stay in the building was being put up at nearby hotels, and that the property owners were seeking permanent housing for those who chose not to return to Twin Parks.

“No one will be displaced,” the spokeswoman said.

Kate Smart, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams, said “no one is being forced or asked to leave hotels” where they have been housed in the wake of the blaze.

“Lodging remains available to any resident who would like to stay in emergency hotels,” Ms. Smart said. “The city continues to provide support and resources to all families affected by Sunday’s fire.”

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Adams said that a “thorough investigation” into any outstanding violations at the building was continuing. He noted that many of those violations were recorded before the current owners acquired the property.

Asked about his relationship with Rick Gropper, a member of the mayor’s transition committee and a founder of Camber Property Group, which has a stake in the group that now owns the building, Mr. Adams said, “I have not communicated with him at all.”

“He’s one of almost 1,000 people that participated in my transition team,” Mr. Adams said.

The reassurances meant little to Walter Williams Jr.

Mr. Williams, 62, said he had gotten a call early Thursday from a representative of the company that manages the building.

“‘I heard that you were able to get out,’” Mr. Williams recalled the person saying. “‘Your apartment just has a lot of smoke damage. It’s deemed livable, just needed a paint job and a new door. We could get you back in a few days.’”

The interaction, he said, overwhelmed him and prompted him to go into what he called “Martin Luther King mode.”

“You’re trying to tell me, after I stepped over dead bodies, to go back,” he said, his voice rising and cracking in anger as he recalled what he experienced on Sunday: “Smoke’s fuming out. We running out. I knew I stepped on a human dead person. And they want me to go back.”

“You can’t be serious if you think you’ll ever be able to go back,” he said.

Jeffery C. Mays and Ed Shanahan contributed reporting.

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Regionales

‘Devastated’: Crowds Throng Funeral Service for 15 Bronx Fire Victims

A line of black hearses began pulling up outside the doors of the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx just after 10 a.m. on Sunday. They maneuvered past throngs of distraught mourners who had flocked to the mosque to say a final goodbye to friends, children, parents and cousins killed in a fire that took the lives of 17 members of a close-knit Gambian community.

Indoors, women consoled each other in a second-floor prayer space as the men gathered downstairs. Outside, two tents were filled with families watching the funeral service on a livestream.

Aminata Sillah, 42, had arrived early. She laid a blue prayer rug on the ground in the frigid morning air, tugging anxiously at her boots.

Ms. Sillah’s aunt, Fatoumata Drammeh, was among those who died on Jan. 9 as acrid smoke filled the apartment building on East 181st Street, suffocating people as they tried to flee the 19-story complex. Ms. Drammeh’s three children also died and were among the 15 people being honored during Sunday’s communal funeral service.

“I’m devastated,” Ms. Sillah said. “It’s been a restless week.”

An imam urged people to clear a path as the coffins, draped in black velvet cloth and held aloft by more than two dozen men, were carried inside the mosque.

“It’s just painful,” Haji Dukuray, 60, said before falling silent as a tiny, child-size coffin was placed near where he sat in the front row on a green prayer rug.

“All this innocence, these young kids,” Mr. Dukuray said. “They have no business being here.”

Yahya Sankara, 33, who lost his sister and two nephews, sighed loudly as his eyes began to tear up.

“My heart is done,” Mr. Sankara said. “I have nothing to say.”

New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams; the state’s attorney general, Letitia James; and Senator Chuck Schumer were among the elected leaders who attended the packed funeral service.

The fire, ignited by a space heater, was the city’s deadliest blaze in decades.

The blaze began just before 11 a.m. on a similarly chilly Sunday morning a week ago. Eight children were among the dead.

As the service started, the imam, Sankung Jeitteh, said he was struggling to control his emotions as he listed the names of families — Dukuray, Drammeh, Jambang, Konteh, Tunkara, Toure — decimated by the blaze.

“When the Lord asks for something, we have no choice but to agree,” he said, adding, “I’m trying to control myself.”

Family members started to quietly sob.

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Regionales

New York Governor Offers Hopeful Sign as Daily Cases Fall by 47%

Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, warned on Sunday that the Omicron surge of coronavirus cases had not yet peaked nationally, saying that the next few weeks would be very difficult in many parts of the country as hospitalizations and deaths rise.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dr. Murthy noted the “good news” of the plateaus and drops in known cases in the Northeast, especially in New York City and New Jersey.

But “the challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he said, adding “we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the coming days.”

“The next few weeks will be tough,” he said.

The highly contagious Omicron variant has fueled an explosive surge of known cases, with an average of more than 800,000 new cases a day reported on Saturday, according to a New York Times database.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, also expressed concerns that the next several weeks would overwhelm hospitals and staff. “Right now we’re at about 150,000 people in the hospital with Covid,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s more than we’ve ever had. I expect those numbers to get substantially higher.”

In addition, Omicron has brought into sharp relief the longstanding lack of adequate testing supplies, with consumers now depleting pharmacies of costly rapid tests — a boxed set of two tests ranges from $14 to $24 — and creating long lines at testing sites.

The federal government has promised to distribute one billion rapid at-home coronavirus tests to Americans, limiting each household to request four free tests. And new federal rules require private insurers to cover up to eight at-home tests per member a month.

But with the test orders and reimbursement processes hampered by delays, Americans will likely not have tests in hand for weeks, which may be too late in some places where demand is high as infections spread.

“We’ve ordered too few testing kits, so our testing capacity has continued to lag behind each wave,” Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser to President Trump, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s too little and too late, but noteworthy for the next wave.”

While many people infected with Omicron have had no or mild symptoms, others — especially those who were not vaccinated and those with chronic conditions — suffered more serious illnesses that were already overwhelming hospitals in some states late last year.

Dr. Murthy disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision last week that rejected President Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers that would have applied to more than 80 million workers.

“Well, the news about the workplace requirement being blocked was very disappointing,” Dr. Murthy said. “It was a setback for public health. Because what these requirements ultimately are helpful for is not just protecting the community at large; but making our workplaces safer for workers as well as for customers.”

Nearly 63 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, but only 38 percent of those have received a booster shot, which some have argued should be the new definition of full vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed the definition of full vaccination, but said recently it considers three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines to be “up-to-date,” as well as Johnson & Johnson’s shots with a second dose, preferably of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

Last week, the C.D.C. finally acknowledged that cloth masks do not offer as much protection as a surgical mask or respirator, which some experts have urged the agency to recommend for the general public.

“Please, please get vaccinated,” Dr. Murthy said on ABC, issuing a reminder that the shots still provide good protection against severe illness. “It’s still not too late.”

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Regionales

Homes That Sold for $520,000 or Less

Each week, our survey of recent residential sales in New York City and the surrounding region focuses on homes that sold around a certain price point, allowing you to compare single-family homes, condos and co-ops in different locales.

The “list price” is the asking price when the property came on the market with the most recent broker. The time on the market is measured from the most recent listing to the closing date of the sale.

BROOKLYN | 1 BEDROOM, 1 BATH

This 700-square-foot postwar co-op has hardwood floors, a southern exposure and an open kitchen with a breakfast bar in a non-doorman elevator building with a live-in superintendent.

20 weeks on the market

$375,000 list price

1% below list price

Costs $643 a month in maintenance

Listing broker Keller Williams


Connecticut | 2 bedrooms, 3 baths

This 45-year-old, 2,026-square-foot, semidetached condo has an open floor plan, a kitchen with granite counters and island seating and two decks in a complex for those aged 55 and over.

12 weeks on the market

$439,900 list price

Less than 1% above list price

Costs $9,543 a year in taxes; $463 a month in common charges

A 577-square-foot prewar condo with hardwood floors, an eat-in kitchen with granite counters, a bedroom with French doors and a windowed walk-in closet in a non-doorman walk-up building.

31 weeks on the market

$435,000 list price

6% below list price

Costs $5,168 a year in taxes; $405 a month in common charges

Listing broker Triplemint


Long Island | 2 bedrooms, 2½ baths

This 36-year-old, 1,305-square-foot, townhouse-style condo has a living room with a stone fireplace, two walk-in closets and two decks in a complex with a pool and tennis courts.

17 weeks on the market

$499,000 list price

4% above list price

Costs $13,209 a year in taxes; $350 a month in common charges

Listing broker Douglas Elliman


Westchester | 1 bedroom, 1 bath

A 32-year-old, 774-square-foot condo, with hardwood floors, a pass-through kitchen that has granite counters, and a washer and dryer in a high-rise doorman building with a gym, indoor pool and pond.

21 weeks on the market

$389,000 list price

6% below list price

Costs $4,911 a year in taxes; $569 a month in common charges

Listing broker Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty


A 350-square-foot prewar co-op, with a bath, hardwood floors, two closets and a kitchen with stainless-steel appliances (but no dishwasher), in an elevator building with a doorman and gym.

14 weeks on the market

$325,000 list price

17% below list price

Costs $840 a month in maintenance

Listing broker Keller Williams

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