Twelve people — eight of whom were children — died Wednesday morning after a massive fire ripped through a Philadelphia apartment building, officials said.
The duplex was owned by the federally funded Philadelphia Housing Authority, whose properties are home to about 80,000 low-income residents.
At a news conference, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney called it "without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city's history."
"Losing so many kids is just devastating," he added. "Keep these babies in your prayers."
There were 26 people living in the building, and the death toll was feared to rise due to the ongoing nature of recovery efforts, First Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said. At least eight people escaped on their own, and two — one adult, and one child — were transported to the hospital.
City officials said in a statement Wednesday night that one child who was rescued from the building later died.
"It was terrible — I’ve been around for 35 years now, and this is probably one of the worst fires I’ve ever been to," Murphy said. "We plan on making sure that this tremendous loss of life did not happen in vain."
Officials earlier on Wednesday, as recovery efforts at the scene were ongoing, had given a death toll of 13. They revised that number to 12 fatalities Wednesday night.
There were at least four smoke detectors in the building, but they didn't go off during the fire, Murphy said. According to the Philadelphia Housing Authority, he added, four smoke detectors had been installed in 2019, and two more were installed in 2020.
The agency's CEO, Kelvin A. Jeremiah, said in a statement that the building's two units "were last inspected in April 2021 and May 2021 respectively," and that "all smoke detectors were operating properly at that time."
“This unimaginable loss of life has shaken all of us at PHA," Jeremiah said. "It is too early for us to say more."
The cause of the fire is under investigation, though it is "not necessarily considered suspicious," Murphy said. Though he could not say whether the building was overcapacity, he said 26 residents is "a tremendous amount of people to be living in a duplex."
Dinesh Indala, Philadelphia Housing Authority's Vice President of Operations, told CBS Philly they had not been aware how many residents were living there, saying the "count for the number of people on that property is too high" but adding that it could be due to "people coming and visiting" for the holidays.
The mayor, meanwhile, urged the public not to "make judgment on the number of people living in the house."
"Sometimes it’s better for people to be indoors than on the street," Kenney said. "Maybe they were relatives or people that needed to be sheltered."
The names of those who died were not immediately released, but heartbroken neighbors said they remembered seeing some of the youngest victims playing outside over the years.
“I knew some of those kids — I used to see them playing on the corner,” 34-year-old neighbor Dannie McGuire told the Associated Press. “And some of those kids have lived here as long as us.”
The death toll, originally reported to be 13 using information provided by city officials, was revised to 12.