Two sisters, an 11-year-old friend and one adult died in a massive New Jersey fire that may have started inside a soda machine in a store where they were shopping and spread, the mayor of Elizabeth said Tuesday.
An 8-year-old girl, Paola Marquez, her 10-year-old sister, Daniella Marquez and an 11-year-old friend, Elizabeth Correas, died in the Monday evening blaze in the store at the corner of Elizabeth Avenue and Jacques Street. Officials say the sisters and their mom, Merlyn Vazquez, had been shopping when flames erupted and tried to escape through a rear stairway, but encountered a metal cage surrounding the area and no exit. The bodies of the 8- and 11-year-olds were recovered Monday night; Paola was found under debris the next morning.
Their mother remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday.
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Authorities also found a 41-year-old woman, Candida Martinez del Reyes, Tuesday when they found the 11-year-old child. Both were discovered buried in debris, in the same area where the other victims were found the night before.
"They could see out .. but couldn't get out," Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said, adding the city is looking into an egress issue on the second floor and will investigate whether there was a building code violation.
Video from Chopper 4 showed smoke and flames pouring out of the building as fire raged Monday. The fire continued to grow, eventually being upgraded to five alarms as firefighters battled the inferno. The fire raged for hours, with firefighters knowing the whole time there were several people trapped inside they couldn't get to, despite a heroic effort by Elizabeth police.
After police arrived in the back of the building, they found the two women and three girls trapped upstairs at a false doorway with no steps. The interior stairway just feet away was filled with smoke and flames.
Three officers who were in the area threw up a ladder to try and remove the metal cage with their bare hands, but couldn't get it off. One witness said a person from across the street tried breaking down a door to access the children, but was unsuccessful.
The fire remains under investigation.