160 residents displaced by fire at Sunnyside apartment building

ByJoe Torres and Eyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, December 21, 2023
5-alarm fire burns through Queens apartment building
Joe Torres has the latest details.

SUNNYSIDE, Queens (WABC) -- A five-alarm fire burned through an apartment building in Queens Wednesday afternoon.

The fire started just minutes after noon on Wednesday on the top floor of a 6-story residential building in Sunnyside, Queens.

Firefighters encountered flames pouring out of the windows at 43-09 47th Avenue, a 6-story residential building in Sunnyside, as long-time residents stood on the sidewalk and watched New York's bravest attack the flames from numerous tower ladders.

The flames were spotted on the 6th floor and into the cockloft of the six-story building. More than 130 firefighters responded to the scene.

Denise Elia immediately worried about her 76-year-old mom who lives on the 5th floor.

"I was walking to my car at 43rd street and I saw the firetrucks and people taking pictures so I knew something happened, so I just ran and I saw her outside from the 5th floor and then the firemen were saying everybody out, everybody out," she said.

"I came from Flushing in an Uber, let's see if I could go inside and get my dog. I tried and talked to many firefighters but they said we couldn't go it until the fire was contained," Evelyn Cruz, a displaced tenant, said.

The fire moved to three of the four wings of the building, prompting the FDNY to upgrade the response from three alarms to four alarms and then 5.

"I opened up my window and I seen the glass coming down and I seen all the white smoke billowing but I paid it no mind because it's another section of the building but then I noticed there was too much commotion in the hallway," Anthony Parrish, another tenant, said.

It appears everyone got out safely. First responders reported a total of 14 injuries. None are life-threatening but one firefighter was taken to a hospital in serious but stable condition, officials said.

Jorge Ruiz's 15-year-old daughter was in the family's fourth floor apartment. She smelled the smoke and ran out.

"At this moment I don't even know what to think. I'm kind of in shock. I don't know what to think. I know, I know we lost everything. That much I know," Ruiz said.

Not only did the flames cause havoc, but all the water cascaded through the rest of the building, all but destroying dozens of homes.

Resident Eric Tabala pointed out his mother in law's charred apartment on the second floor. He was waiting in the cold so he could rescue his cat.

"I've been seeing people coming home from work because they didn't know what was going on and their stuff is gone," he said. "You didn't expect it, it was horrible. It's cold, it's horrible, it's Christmas season, it's not a good day."

Over 450 residents have been temporarily displaced.

The Red Cross said they have registered 68 households (160 people) for emergency assistance so far. They are taking in residents at the Children's Lab School at 45-45 42nd Street between Queens Boulevard and 47th Avenue for the short term, but many of the damaged apartments will be off limits for much longer than that.

"This is all working class, mostly people of color who work really hard and a lot of families," said New York City Council member Julie Won. "Most renters as you know don't have renters insurance, and that's going to leave them during the holiday season with nothing."

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