Abdoulie Touray is believed to have been the first Gambian to move into 333 E. 181st Street. He drew scores of compatriots to the building where 17 died in a fire.
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When Abdoulie Touray, then a 41-year-old Gambian diamond trader, settled in the Bronx in the 1970s, the area was blighted by crime and the West African community was tiny. There were no restaurants serving okra stew, no funeral parlors providing proper Islamic rites and no nearby mosques.
An erudite Islamic scholar by night, Mr. Touray moved into a third-floor apartment in a new 19-story building known as Twin Parks North West. Soon, he was offering a place to stay, food, contacts for jobs and the occasional verse from the Quran to newcomers from his homeland.
Virtually overnight, an entire community sprouted around him. And the building became a kind of homeland-in-exile for Gambians fleeing oppressive dictatorship and crushing poverty.
Visitors to Mr. Touray’s apartment later became tenants of the building at 333 East 181st Street. A dozen mosques opened. Hair braiding salons popped up, as did supermarkets selling varieties of fufu, bottles of Vimto, a soft drink popular in West Africa, and canned eggplant.
Twin Parks North West gained a new nickname: Touray Tower.
Then on Sunday, in just minutes, what had been a haven for many Gambians quickly turned into a deathtrap, as smoke from a fire killed 17 people, including eight children.
“This community has grown to what it is today because of that building, and that is why it’s very special to us,” said Haji Dukuray, 60, who arrived in 1988 to study business administration, with a single suitcase and knowing just one address, the one in the Bronx. “When they said on the news, ‘Fire at 333—,’ I said, ‘It’s the Touray Tower!’”
Nearly all the victims were of Gambian or of West African descent.
There were the Drammehs — Fatoumata and her three children. There were the Dukurays, Hajie and Haja and their three children. There was Fatoumata Tunkara and her 6-year-old son, Omar Jambang.
The Touray family knew nearly all of the victims. Several were their cousins.
The Touray family had grown since the patriarch first arrived on the scene — his 20th grandchild was born in 2021.
Although Mr. Touray died in 2019 at age 81 of heart failure, about 50 members of the immediate and extended family were living in the building at the time of the fire, according to one of his sons, Suleyman Touray, and Mariama Touray, who is married to one of his nephews. Following the norms of his culture and religion, Mr. Touray had three Islamic-law wives who still lived in the apartment on the third floor. Two of his widows were placed in hotels; the third had been visiting Gambia at the time of the fire.
Born in Sotuma Sere, a village in Eastern Gambia, Mr. Touray moved to the country through a program for young democrats, his daughter Fatiah Touray, 38, said.
Mr. Touray was well-traveled and spoke at least nine languages — English, French, Arabic, Soninke, Mandingo, Fulani, Wolof, Lingala and Sierra Leonean Creole. On arriving in the United States, he started a nonprofit called the Pan-African Islamic Society out of his apartment and offered Islamic services to celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and Cicely Tyson, according to family members.
“He realized that there was no real place where West Africans could get their proper funeral rites as Muslims, and he was really instrumental in getting that started for the Muslim community,” said Magundo Touray, 41, one of his daughters.
“If someone got arrested and they didn’t speak a language, the 46th Precinct always used to knock on our door and say, like, ‘Hey, Mister, we got someone that’s lost. Maybe you can help us.’”
Gita Sankano grew up in a nearby building but spent much of her childhood visiting or being babysat by relatives there. “We all knew 3G,” Mr. Touray’s apartment, she said. “When my mother came to the U.S. she stayed at 3G. My naming ceremony was in 3G. It is our own village. That’s how deep it is. It’s our own community. This is a tragedy for the whole Gambian community.”
At Twin Parks North West, neighbors and residents saw Mr. Touray in the courtyard handing out dollar bills to children. People went in and out of his apartment, which was often filled with the fragrance of jollof rice, plantains and okra stew. On Eid, throngs of people would crowd the hallways of the building. “They’d come from the mosque down the block and then straight to the house,” said Magundo Touray.
“We would all congregate there for morning prayer, and everyone would stop by the house — a hundred people — even during the pandemic. They would all come with their masks,” she said.
To many, Touray Tower, as so many called it, felt like an extension of family back home, and it was easy to understand why: Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa with fewer than 2 million people living on a strip of land squeezed inside Senegal, with just the tip jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. Just 8,000 or so Gambians live in all of the United States, according to U.S. embassy data, many of them in New York City.
In Gambia, “everybody is related, everybody knows everybody,” said Dawda Docka Fadera, Gambia’s ambassador to the United States, who met with survivors a day after the blaze. “So our country is in shock.”
Mr. Touray, like many of his successors, arrived to New York just as large-scale immigration from Gambia to the United States took off in the 1970s, following independence from Britain in 1965 and after it became a republic in 1970. The United States and Gambia have ties going back to World War II, when Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma, and Banjul, the capital, served as a stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys.
In the mid-1980s, a series of economic deregulation policies and severe droughts and the collapse of the price of peanuts — a main staple — in international markets further spurred an exodus to the United States.
A wave of asylum seekers crested again in 1994, when a young army lieutenant, Yahya Jammeh, seized power and launched a 22-yearlong dictatorship marked by extrajudicial killings, torture and rape.
Many of them filled up Touray Tower and raised their families there, despite worsening conditions.
Residents said that the heating often did not circulate well in the apartments, especially in the more spacious living rooms, so they resorted to leaving the oven on or boiling water so that the steam would create some warmth. And almost every household uses space heaters, residents said.
“All the Africans have them — the heating is not enough and it comes on temporarily, you don’t know what time it comes,” said Mamadou Wague, who moved from Gambia in the 1990s and now runs Halal Meat & Fish Market a couple of blocks away from the apartment building. His sister is a tenant there.
City officials said a space heater that had been left running malfunctioned in a third-floor duplex. The apartment had multiple space heaters, authorities said.
The apartment’s self-closing front door also failed to close, and another door on the 15th floor that was open created a flue, officials said, sucking smoke upward so thickly through a stairwell that some of those who tried to flee down its steps collapsed and died.
Mariama Sankara, who married into the Touray family, said she too used three space heaters in her apartment.
“It’s very cold. You have to put extra heat,” she said, standing in the hallway of one of the hotels where the city has placed survivors. She looked tired. “That building, it was just so crazy. No security, no heating, the maintenance was bad,” Ms. Sankara said.
Heat complaints filed with the city by tenants in the building had been resolved, according to city records. A spokeswoman for the building’s owners said the door of the apartment where the fire broke out had been repaired last summer.
Mr. Touray’s apartment, the one that began the wave of immigrants who settled there, was just two doors down the hall.
The Touray family said authorities have told them that it would take them six to eight weeks to be able to return and retrieve their belongings, even valuable paperwork.
Touray Tower, they said, is no more.
“A lot of people don’t want to move back, you know, they’re traumatized,” said Magundo Touray. “It’s not going to be the same, and that makes me sad.”
Lola Fadulu, Anne Barnard and Amy Julia Harris contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
The Rise of Online Businesses: A Comprehensive Guide to Success
In a world increasingly connected through the internet, the possibilities for starting and growing online businesses have expanded exponentially. Whether you’re looking to escape the traditional nine-to-five grind, want to tap into a global market, or are simply passionate about a niche interest, launching an online business is a promising venture. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key steps to success in the dynamic world of online entrepreneurship.
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Your website is the heart of your online business. Create a professional, user-friendly website that reflects your brand and offers a seamless customer experience browse around this site. Ensure your site is mobile-responsive and optimized for search engines (SEO) to maximize your online visibility.
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Promote your online business through various digital marketing channels. These may include social media marketing, email marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and search engine optimization. Tailor your marketing efforts to reach your specific target audience.
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Regularly monitor your online business’s performance through analytics tools. Analyze the data to make informed decisions and adapt your strategies accordingly. The online landscape evolves quickly, so staying agile and open to change is essential.
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Stay informed about legal and tax obligations relevant to your online business. Compliance is vital to avoid legal issues and financial penalties. Consider consulting with a professional accountant or attorney to navigate the complexities of online business regulations and taxation.
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Once your online business is thriving, explore opportunities for growth. This might involve expanding your product or service range, reaching new markets, or diversifying your income streams. Continual innovation is key to long-term success.
In conclusion, the world of online businesses offers endless possibilities for aspiring entrepreneurs. By following these essential steps, you can increase your chances of creating a successful online venture. Remember that persistence, adaptability, and a commitment to providing value to your audience are fundamental qualities of a thriving online business owner.
The internet has revolutionized the way we do business. If you have a unique idea, a passion, or a solution to a problem, there’s never been a better time to start your online business. So, why wait? Take the plunge and embark on your journey to online business success today.