NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Two young girls are dead after suffering severe burns when a radiator valve apparently exploded inside an apartment in the Bronx on Wednesday.
As CBS2's Jessica Layton reported, the accident happened around noon on the first floor of a Hunts Point building where the city places homeless families.
Firefighters responding to a report of a smoke condition inside the building. They found steam coming from the apartment and the two girls, ages 1 and 2.
"They came across to pediatric females in cardiac arrest," said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Gala.
The girls were taken to Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in critical condition, and despite firefighters' efforts, they could not be saved. Both girls were pronounced dead at the hospital.
There was no fire inside the apartment.
The girls were since identified as Ibanez Ambrose, 2, and Scylee Vayoh Ambrose, 1.
As CBS2's Tracee Carrasco reported, the girls' heartbroken father was inconsolable outside the hospital Wednesday evening.
Friends of the family said they moved to New York from Boston and into the Hunts Point Avenue building.
"They was in the shelter system and they was placed here," said family friend Nivia Alamo. She only complained about the tub; the chipped paint. She never talked about no radiator being broke."
"It's sad," said Maritza Morales of the Bronx. "It's really, really sad."
Saddened and stunned, neighbors stood on a cold sidewalk for hours just beyond blue police tape that went up outside 720 Hunts Point Ave., where Maritza Morales has lived for seven years.
"My son called me – that there was an explosion, and that when he came down, that my neighbor was running out with his two babies, and that they were burned all over," Morales said.
"It got me really shaken up," added Morales' son, Gilberto Lorenzo.
Her son, Gilberto Lorenzo, heard a boom before the chaos that erupted from the first floor apartment of his downstairs neighbor.
"The father was just very hysterical," said Lorenzo, who called 911. "I seen the mother. The mother was panicking on the floor."
Neighbors who remained outside during the investigation were numb and desperate for answers.
"There's a lot of violations; things that need to be fixed," Morales said. "They'll patch up little things, you know, they'll put a Band-Aid on it."
"Why? Why this happened?" said neighbor Andrea Perez. "If these radiators were so bad, why they didn't do nothing about it?"
Police continued to investigate late Wednesday. The radiator was removed from the apartment and hauled off in an NYPD Crime Scene Unit van.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city mourns the loss of the two young girls.
"We are in the preliminary stages of what is a highly active, multi-agency investigation into what happened in this home and whether there's anything that can be done to help prevent such an unspeakable event in the future. Our law enforcement, buildings, fire and social services personnel will not rest until we can answer what has given rise to this heartbreaking incident," de Blasio said in a statement.
Meanwhile, CBS2 checked city records and found there have been countless complaints made about the building. Some wondered whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
Robert Mascali, a former deputy commissioner for the city's Department of Homeless Services, said this was the worst accident he has ever heard about in a local homeless facility.
"In 20 years of being involved in homeless issues, I've never heard of anything more horrific than this," Mascali told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez. "This is horrible."
The Hunts Point Avenue building is considered a homeless cluster shelter – a privately owned building that contracts with the city to house the homeless in some of the units. In this case, five of 48 units housed homeless families.
"We are devastated by this tragedy," said Commissioner Steven Banks of the Human Resources Administration. "We are investigating and taking steps to immediately transfer the four other families being sheltered at this location to another shelter."
"We've lost two more of our youngest, most vulnerable New Yorkers. It comes as the homeless population has just reached yet another record high, and the number of children in the DHS system is soaring. We have to do better," said Comptroller Scott Stringer. "We will ask questions and work to get answers about what happened here—transparency is key. But for now, these children are in my family's thoughts. It's a sad day."
Since the early 1990s, the city has received dozens of complaints about the Hunts Point apartment building – mostly about faulty elevators.
The city Department of Buildings inspected the building at least twice this year, and last month issued a violation for what was characterized as a detective "future gas connection."
Mascali said the Department of Homeless Services regularly inspects all cluster shelters. In September, the department found more than 14,000 violations at the cluster shelters – with more than 1,000 of them considered high-priority.
Mascali said the potentially fatal flaws that may have caused the deadly radiator explosion are much more difficult to detect in cluster sites compared with fully functioning homeless shelters.
"In a shelter, it's run by nonprofit. They're constantly up in those rooms, checking to see what kind of conditions there are, as far as cleanliness and, you know, structural problems. So the cluster sites -- they're really -- they're out of control of the city," Mascali said, "because they're privately owned and they're isolated."
CBS2 was unable to reach the Bushwick Economic Development Corporation, which runs the Hunts Point cluster shelter. The tragedy there came as the city's homeless population reaches an all-time high of more than 60,000 people – nearly 24,000 of them children.
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