BAMAKO, Mali (AP) – A New York City cab driver who lost his wife and four children in one of city’s worst fires arrived with their bodies in his native Mali for burial.

The remains of Mamadou Soumare’s wife, daughter, son and 7-month old twins who died when their Bronx home was engulfed in flames arrived Saturday via Air France in the Malian capital, where an extended family awaited them, wracked by grief.

The victims were among 10 Malian immigrants were killed March 7 in the fire cause by an overheated space heater. The horrific death of the young family caused heartbreak on two continents, as well as an outpouring of support.

At the Bamako airport, the coffins were awaited by more than 100 mourners, who sat on the airport’s tiled floor fingering Islamic prayer beads, reciting verses from the Quran and weeping softly.

Air France paid for the transport of the simple, wooden coffins. In New York, a memorial service preceding the departure of the remains was attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton attended a separate prayer service for the dead.

Many family members at the airport in Mali said that although the grief was deep, their faith has sustained them.

“Religion permits us to accept it. We are born to die,” said Idrissa Soumare, 31, the younger brother of the grieving father and the uncle of the dead children. “We say, ‘Thank God.’ We accept. It’s a way to turn the page, but it’s not easy.”

Family members spoke of the importance of returning the bodies to their homeland, even if none of the children had spent time in Mali. “It’s hard for us. But we thank God for having made it possible for their bodies to return to the land of their ancestors,” said Sekou Soumare, the uncle of the dead mother.

Long before the fire, Mariam Fatoumata Soumare, 42, had expressed her wish to be buried alongside her father in a Bamako cemetery, according to Michael Wildes, a New York-based attorney representing the family.

On Sunday afternoon, following a public prayer service, Mariam Soumare will be laid to rest in the Muslim cemetery, along with the children – 7-month-old twins Harouna and Sise, 4-year-old Djibril and 7-year-old Hassimy.

When the blaze erupted, Soumare, 48, was driving his livery cab. His wife called him on his cell phone, pleading for help, as the flames swallowed their home. In a desperate attempt to save the children, adults dropped two toddlers out of the window, who were caught by neighbors and survived.

Nine children died in what is being called New York City’s worst blaze in 17 years, including five children of Moussa Magassa, who shared the Bronx row house.

The last of those injured in the blaze left a hospital Friday. Kadiatou Magassa, 6, was discharged from Jacobi Medical Center.

Associated Press Photographer Rebecca Blackwell contributed to this report from Bamako, Mali.

AP-ES-03-17-07 1803EDT

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