What to Know
About 200 firefighters battled the blaze as it overtook the top floors of an apartment building in Elmhurst
More than 100 units in the building were damaged and dozens were left displaced
It's unclear what started the fire; officials believe it started between the roof and ceiling of the top apartments
A fire on the roof of an apartment building in Queens rapidly spread to apartments below, damaging more than 100 apartments and displacing dozens of people as the blaze burned for hours Tuesday, authorities say.
The fire broke out around 6:30 p.m. at a six-story building on 94th Street in Elmhurst. One man was in the middle of shaving when he said water started pouring into his fourth-floor apartment like "Niagara Falls." He ran outside, along with dozens of other residents who filled nearby streets and sidewalks as they watched, helpless, as about 200 firefighters battled the flames.
Video from the Long Island Expressway just before nightfall showed smoke rising over the neighborhood as the fire overtook the roof and top floors.
Another video showed bright flames and thick smoke pouring from windows on the top floors as fire crews arrived.
The blaze was brought under control in about three and a half hours; by that point, part of the roof had collapsed, officials said.
Eleven firefighters were hurt, authorities said, but all were expected to be OK.
Dozens of anguished residents were left in disarray after the fire. Former Marine Selah Giraldo lost the accolade he'd earned over his five years of service. He was in tears as he said he hoped the ribbons can be replaced.
Giraldo was briefly allowed to return to his apartment Wednesday to gather the prized possessions that were safe: a passport, some paperwork and a soot-covered American flag, which he draped over his neck.
"It's something that means a lot to me. I had it in the Marine Corps, so I've had it since then," he said of the flag. "It means everything to me."
Abishek Chandiramani, a tenant on the fifth floor, was also among the displaced.
"My wife is pregnant," Chandiramani said through tears. "We have no home, nothing. We have to stay the whole night here outside."
Chandiramani said he believes many, if not most, of his possessions are gone.
"I have only my phone," he said. "I came with my slippers. I don't have nothing."
Ken Taylor faced the same terrible reality.
"All I could think about was my whole life was gone," he said.
For Taylor, there was a silver lining in an otherwise devastating night. His dogs, Diamond and Fluffy, who he feared had been lost in the blaze, were ultimately rescued from the building.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. As for the man on the fourth-floor who had been shaving, he was staying at a shelter across the street. When NBC 4 New York spoke with him Wednesday morning, he still had only half his face shaved. He was able to briefly go back into his apartment Tuesday night to get a few items before having to leave again. Residents on the fifth and sixth floors of the building were allowed to return to their homes Wednesday.
It wasn't clear how many apartments in total were in the building, but the FDNY tweeted late Tuesday it had been able to "save" 60 of them.