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Fire Sweeps Through Women And Children's Homeless Shelter In Flatiron District

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Hundreds of women and children were forced from their homes Tuesday, after a fire tore through an apartment building on East 28th Street.

As CBS 2's Kathryn Brown reported, half a dozen people remained displaced Tuesday night.

Resident Michelle Lisieno was counting her blessings late Tuesday, relieved that she and her daughter were alive after flames sparked in their apartment building, the Latham Hotel at 4 E. 28th St. in the Flatiron District.

"The only reason I knew is because of my daughter, my daughter like, 'Mommy, what is that funny smell?'" Lisieno said. "And I like, I was laying down, and I got up, and I felt like I was going to pass out. And then I opened my door, and the smoke – the smoke swarmed my room."

She hustled 3-year-old Kylie down the stairs, fighting smoke the entire way.

"We walked through the smoke down the stairs," Lisieno said.

"They told us not to panic, but you've got to be realistic," said Dominique Mendez, who spoke to CBS 2 while holding with her 1-year-old son, Paul Cooper. "We all have small children here, and we're all trying to get downstairs. It got overwhelming."

The building is a safe haven for women and children, run by the city. Dozens of shaken residents spent hours standing on 28th Street, holding tight to their children.

"I'm six months pregnant with twins, and it's just sad," said building resident Shoshanna Morgan. "You know, anything could happen -- smoke inhalation, anything."

Firefighters said flames broke out on the fourth floor, but residents as high as the 12th floor said they could smell smoke.

"I was going toward the elevator, and that's when I saw everything, and noticed that I couldn't get in the elevator, so I ended up having to go down the stairs," said Koren Thomas, who has a 3-week-old baby named Tyler, "and each floor pretty much had smoke, and the fire smell, and everything."

Investigators said contractors were doing welding work on one of the windows and believe that was what started the fire.

The blaze burned through the walls but firefighters were able to contain it to one unit.

Firefighters said smoke detectors were working, though many residents said they never heard an alarm.

"There is a smoke detector in my room, but it didn't go off," said Kalifa Williams, who has a 1-year-old named Kiyann.

"I don't feel safe. I don't," Mendez added. "If it would have been in the nighttime, we would have all been sleeping. God forbid it would have been a real big fire."

Residents credit their neighbors and the staff for going door-to-door -- making sure everyone got out safely.

The Department of Homeless Services late Tuesday was relocating the six families who were displaced.

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