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3 Killed In New Year's Eve Apartment Fire In Queens

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Three relatives died overnight, after being pulled from an extra-alarm fire at an apartment building in Queens.

The fire broke out around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday inside a 9th floor unit of the LeFrak City apartment complex at the intersection of 57th Avenue and Junction Boulevard. The blaze was later raised to a second alarm.

"When we come in, they tell us everybody passed away," said Emmanuel Geffrard, a relative of the victims.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, Geffrard and her husband said they saw their family members just before the fire engulfed their apartment.

"We don't believe it, because we don't think that could be happening, because when we left, everybody was fine," she said.

Napoleon Michel, 69; his wife, Louise Jean-Charles, 59; and a 37-year-old cousin, Nadia Donnay, were killed. They all lived together in the same apartment, officials said.

Louise Jean-Charles, Nadia Donnay
Louise Jean-Charles (left) and cousin Nadia Donnay, were killed along with Jean-Charles' husband, Napoleon Michel, in a fire in the LeFrak City in Queens on Wednesday, Dec. 31. (Credit: CBS2)

Instagram video from the scene showed flames raging from the apartment. People in other units said they smelled smoke and rushed to escape.

3 Dead In Queens Apartment Fire

"We were just knocking on the doors and letting everybody know that there's a fire, because there was smoke all over the place and we can't hardly see anything in the hallway," a resident said.

"It was bad, but in my apartment, I had to stay inside. The officers told me that I have to stay inside," another resident told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.

Many residents were safely evacuated, but the three who died were trapped inside their home.

"Under real tough conditions, our firefighters pushed down the hall," said FDNY Chief of Department James Leonard. "When they entered the apartment, they found three people in cardiac arrest."

3 Dead In Queens Apartment Fire

The victims were all pronounced dead at an area hospital.

"They're all good people," said neighbor River Tekem. "You don't really know how this can happen on the first day of the year. This is not good. It's terrible."

"People are supposed to celebrate starting new, the New Year, and hoping everything is going to be fine," and then losing, you know, a member of their family is terrible," said area resident Leah Malubalo.

Geffrard cried as she looked at pictures of her in-laws, and said they were cooking to ring in 2015 when the fire broke out.

"We was excited to make the soup for the New Year's, and that happened," she said.

Fire Chief Leonard said the fire originated on the stove, and officials said careless cooking was to blame for the blaze.

"It is sad," said area resident Tsering Yangdon. "It is sad and horrible, and especially on the holiday season. It's very sad."

There were smoke detectors inside the apartment, but they were not working, officials said.

"Over two-thirds of our fire fatalities in the city occur without working smoke detectors," he said. "So we feel, under the circumstances, a working smoke detector would have given them time to get out."

By midday, the entryway to the building was still off limits, and the gutted apartment was inspected. Tekem said he would remember the family's friendly demeanor.

"One thing, they would always say, 'Good morning, how are you doing, how was your night?'" Tekem said.

More than 100 firefighters and 25 units responded to the scene and dealt with extremely smoky conditions. Several were treated for minor injuries.

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