By Gina Cherelus
(Reuters) - At least five children were killed and one was missing on Thursday after a fire tore through a three-story house in Baltimore, city fire department officials said.
The mother of the children killed was injured in the blaze, along with three of her nine children, authorities said.
The fire had engulfed the house by the time firefighters arrived on the scene at about 12:30 a.m. EST and its third floor collapsed onto the second floor shortly afterwards, Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Chief Roman Clark said.
Officials began recovering the bodies of the children, between 9 months to 11 years old, at about 10:30 a.m., he said
Firefighters had to battle the blaze from outside due to the severity of the flames and destruction. An excavator was used at to remove heavy debris in the search for the one missing child, Clark said.
"Firefighters are doing what we call "hand dig" and they are going through it by hand and small tools," Clark said. "It's a slow process, we're trying not to disturb any remains."
The five children confirmed killed included a baby, a toddler and 3-year-old twin girls, according to fire officials.
Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings identified the mother as Katie Malone, a special assistant who had worked in the congressman's office for nearly 11 years, according to a press release from his office.
"My staff is a family and this unimaginable tragedy is shocking and heartbreaking to us all," Cummings said in a statement.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Andrew Hay and Tom Brown)