New Orleans Homeless Youth Die
Group of 8 friends die in warehouse blaze in New Orleans; homeless victims were artists & musicians
A group of eight homeless musicians and artists who were living in an abandoned warehouse in New Orleans died Tuesday when it burned to the ground in one of city’s deadliest blazes in decades.
Firefighters said they could not tell the ages or genders of the victims, who were seeking shelter from the cold in the warehouse, because the bodies were burned so badly.
But a group of young people nearby who said they knew the squatters told The Associated Press that three women and five men between the ages of 19 and 30 died in the blaze.
“They were all accomplished musicians or artists – jolly, happy people,” said Rachel Park, 27.
Park said she knew the victims by their first names only, and that only one or two of them were from New Orleans.
Police believe the group had been burning trash in a large barrel to keep warm in the subfreezing temperatures when the fire broke out.
Fire trucks were called to the area, in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, shortly after 2 a.m. when the building was engulfed in flames.
A 23-year-old man who escaped said he tried to get back in to help his friends but the smoke was too thick to see.
Two dogs were also killed in the fire.
The city’s 9th Ward was devastated by flooding during Hurricane Katrina, and the warehouse was in a particularly blighted area, full of graffiti-tagged rail cars and boarded up homes.
City homeless officials said that groups of destitute teens and young adults often gathered in ramshackle hovels like the warehouse, forming loose-knit communities that exist on the fringes of the city’s arts and music scene.
As firefighters picked through the burnt skeleton of the building, a group of scruffy young people, some who said they knew the victims, gathered nearby and built a small memorial of beer cans, candles, a stuffed dog and a sign that said “hungry and homeless.”