New Orleans: The deadliest city blaze in
decades killed eight homeless squatters who were burning
debris in an abandoned warehouse to stay warm, authorities
Firefighters yesterday said they could not tell the
ages or genders of those who died because their bodies were so
badly burned. A 23-year-old man who escaped told the American
Red Cross he could not get back in to help his friends because
of the smoke, agency volunteer Thomas Butler said.
The Orleans Parish Coroner`s Office said it was
uncertain when the dead would be identified. However, a group
of young people sitting on the steps of an abandoned house
near the scene later said the dead included three women and
Rachel Park, 27, of California, estimated the ages
ranged from 19 to 30.
She said the victims never thought of themselves as
homeless and rejected the "gutter punk" label used by some
locals to describe transient youths often seen begging for
money or cigarettes on French Quarter streets.
"They were all accomplished musicians or artists
jolly, happy people," Park said, adding that four dogs died
along with the eight people.
Park knew the victims by first names only and said one
or two were from the New Orleans area, while the others were
from elsewhere in the US.
Temperatures were just below freezing yesterday, not
unheard of but unusually cold for New Orleans. The warehouse
is in a blighted city neighbourhood left even more so by the
flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Agencies that work with the homeless said they believe
some or all the victims were in their late teens or early 20s.
Linda Gonzales, of the New Orleans Mission, said homeless
young adults and teenagers often avoid shelters for several