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Hearts Open For Victims

Vincente Barrera didn’t know where he was gong to spend Tuesday night. His room at the Royal Inn on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset was one of eight paid for through Monday night by the Red Cross after he and other residents were displaced by the disastrous fire that roared through an 87-year-old three-story property at the corner of Main Street and Herbert Avenue on March 14. According to a Port Washington Fire Department official, there were 12 apartments above the stores in the building, with 75 people living in them.

“I don’t know where to go. Who to talk to,” the 26-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant said through an interpreter. “I have no family here.”

Like most of the residents of the building, Barrera lost everything. “All I had were the clothes I was wearing,” he said, telling how he returned home from his part-time job at a deli in town only to be blocked from entering the building. “They told me it was too dangerous to go in.”

The Red Cross established a shelter for the displaced at the Port Washington Senior Center in Manorhaven immediately after the Thursday afternoon blaze. The organization provided cots, three meals a day and cash for clothing and other essentials.

The shelter closed on Saturday night as most of the displaced went to stay with family or friends, said a Red Cross worker on the scene. “One found a new apartment already,” the worker said.

The Red Cross has promised to continue working with the displaced by referring them to agencies that can help, as well as providing material aid. “We can give them the security deposit for a new apartment,” the Red Cross worker said.

The PW Relief Team instantly snapped into action and gathered clothing, toys and toiletries to help fire victims. Formed after Hurricane Sandy, the team became a 501 nonprofit organization to help Port residents during emergencies.

Rob Seiden, president of the PW Relief Team, told Port News they have been working with Red Cross and the Town of North Hempstead – specifically with Town Councilwoman Dina DeGiorgio and Tom McDonough, commissioner of the town’s Office of Emergency Management – to help the victims. Vivian Moy, Elise May and Gail Seiden of the PW Relief Team worked with the Red Cross to arrange transportation for the victims, and they have been also working with the town on transitioning the victims to a permanent solution for shelter.

Rob Seiden noted that the outpouring of support from the community demonstrates how Port residents are always willing to step up and help their neighbors in a time of crisis.

Sister Kathy with Our Lady of Fatima’s outreach and volunteers have been sorting and organizing a variety of donations, including monetary donations. Anyone wishing to make a donation can contact Sister Kathy at 516-754-8093.

The Peter & Jeri Dejana Foundation is donating $10,000 to help the victims in whatever ways Sister Kathy feels would help them the most. President of the foundation Peter Dejana, said, “We know Sister Kathy with Our Lady of Fatima Parish Outreach Center will ensure the donation we made will be put to the best possible use for the destroyed building’s displaced residents.”

In addition, several businesses stepped up to lift the spirits of the victims. Ayhan’s donated food to those staying at the Red Cross Shelter, while Sharon Maier-Kennelly and Andy Lipsett of Landmark on Main Street offered free tickets to the victims for a Saturday night performance.

Displaced Businesses

This fire also forced the closing of longtime restaurateurs Mr. and Mrs. Yamaguchi, as well as the AT&T Fusion Wireless Store and Steve’s Barber Shop, which are located on the first floor of the building.

Area resident Sandy Ehrlich, who was at the scene on Thursday, told Port News she was finishing up lunch at Yamaguchi’s around 1:15 p.m. when firemen came into the building and advised the staff of the fire. Waitresses then walked around and calmly asked everyone to leave. With that, said customers calmly put on their coats and walked out of Yamaguchi’s to go their separate ways. Ehrlich said that while she had work to do, she stayed behind the yellow tape and watched the fire in complete amazement.

It should be noted that Yamaguchi’s Facebook page states, “While nothing is final, we have found some options on Main Street and do not plan on relocating far. This is just the beginning of the recovery.” It goes on to thank everyone and say they will come back stronger and better.

Aftermath

Visiting the fire scene the next day, Port News observed somber-faced onlookers watching as Port Washington fire and police department officers went about securing the building, while the pungent odor of wet burnt wood was in the air outside on the street. During Friday morning, they removed the escape ladders and boarded up the building, but would not comment on the condition of the inside of the building. Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman stated that inspectors and engineers will go through the building to see if it can be saved.

One of the three reported injuries during the fire, which were all minor, included a National Grid employee who was injured by a falling piece of slate from the roof. The Town of North Hempstead building department added scaffolding the next morning to protect people on the sidewalks from future falling debris.

According to Nassau County’s arson/bomb squad, the fire took ten hours for 150 firefighters and 40 pieces of fire apparatus from Port Washington, Great Neck, Williston Park, New Hyde Park, Roslyn and Manhasset to get under control. The Arson Squad stated that roofing contractors who were using a propane-fueled blow torch ignited the fire, which began in the walls and quickly spread to the roof. According to police, this case is under ongoing investigation.