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Displaced Residents Forced Into Dangerous Cold From Fire That Killed 12 In The Bronx

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As residents escaped a fire that left 12 people dead in the Bronx Thursday night, they were met with bitter cold and dangerous temperatures.

As CBS2's Jessica Layton reported, officials have been issuing warnings all week about the dangers of being out in this cold without the proper clothing. But on Thursday night, in order to save their own lives, full families were seen racing out of the building at 2363 Prospect Ave. just west of Bronx Park – some wearing only T-shirts, and some children wearing no shoes.

Thankfully, the American Red Cross Greater New York was on the scene very quickly, wrapping the displaced people in blankets and trying to keep them warm, get them food and get them safe.

As CBS2's Elise Finch reported, as of 6 p.m., it was 13 degrees in the Belmont section of the Bronx when the fire broke out just before 7 p.m., with winds at 21 mph and a wind chill of 1 below zero.

By 10 p.m., the temperature had dropped to 10 degrees with winds still at 21 mph and a wind chill of 4 below zero.

It is the kind of cold where icicles can actually be seen forming off of the fire hydrants.

People were seen walking across the street very carefully to avoid iced-over sidewalks and road. The Red Cross was also seen loading people onto city warming buses to get them to safety.

"All I saw was just kids in the fire escape with their property, you know what I mean? And the flames were still going as the kids were, you know, on the fire escape," said witness Rafael Gonzalez. "All of them in shorts, no socks or nothing."

"It was like freezing point, so it was worse for people who wasn't ready and dressed appropriately – with no shoes or any of that," said one woman who was evacuated to a warming bus.

"We feel really terrible – really bad. You cannot imagine being this cold right now," said another woman from the building who was on the bus with her husband and her two children – ages 1 and 3. They stood in the cold for hours wrapped in blankets to try to get help.

Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito said a nearby school, Crotona International Academy at 2474 Crotona Ave., had been opened as a reception center for those displaced.

The Red Cross transported the displaced people to the school to get them some food and some more warmth, and to try to figure out what their living situation would be for the next several days.

Twelve people were confirmed dead in the fire, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said four people were also in critical condition and fighting for their lives late Thursday. There were other serious injuries as well, de Blasio said.

"This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century," de Blasio said. "Based on the information we have now, this will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years."

De Blasio said 12 others were rescued and will survive. But the search of the building continued late Thursday, and the mayor said, "We may lose others as well."

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