ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Authorities say two more bodies have been recovered from the scene of a massive fire in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

That brings the total to four dead, including three children.

The blaze started around 6 p.m. Monday with a soda machine at the Dollar and Party Store on Elizabeth Avenue. The flames quickly spread to a furniture store above.

Tears were flowing uncontrollably in Elizabeth, reported CBS2’s Christina Fan. Families cradled each other, sobbing together, thinking of the pain their loved ones had to endure.

Tatiana Maquez, 20, stood surrounded by friends, yet she feels utterly alone.

“I got scared and called my mom but she didn’t answer. I called the other girl who was with them and she didn’t answer either. That is when I felt this anguish in my heart and I started to worry,” she said.

Her entire family was shopping at the furniture store on the second level of the building when a fire broke out Monday afternoon. Her mother Merlyn was the only one who survived and remains in a coma. Her two younger sisters, 8-year-old Daniela and 10-year-old Paola, died.

Also among the dead, 11-year-old family friend Elizabeth Correas and 41-year-old Candida Martinez-Del Reyes.

“I feel totally and utterly destroyed. I couldn’t process what was happening. I wanted to believe it was only a bad dream,” she said.

Investigators say a soda machine on the first floor of this Dollar and Party store caused the fire. The staff tried using a fire extinguisher but the flames only grew larger.

All five of the victims were shopping upstairs and found the interior staircase enveloped in smoke. They ran towards what they thought was a back door – only to find it gated with bars.

“At one point that was probably a fire escape. That fire escape is not there in its current design with the building. There were grates or wires, strong fencing protecting the door or the window from anyone on the outside from entering,” said Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage.

Authorities say the building is owned by OK Roger LLC in Brooklyn. They are looking into whether or not the structure was in violation of fire codes, but at last inspection in 2016, the owners passed.

The families of the victims are also demanding those answers.

“I still want to know what the issue was. How did this fire start? Because no one has given me an explanation,” Maquez said.

The community has started several fundraising pages for all the victims. There will be a vigil later tonight to pray for the mother who is still fighting for her life, in a coma at the hospital.

Her family says she does not yet know her two youngest daughters have passed away.

You can get the latest news, sports and weather on our brand new CBS New York app. Download here.

Comments

Leave a Reply