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Manchester fire victims daunted by task of starting over

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 26. 2012 10:33PM
Shelley Therrien, manager at Pro-Image Dry Cleaners and Pressed 4 Time in Manchester, stacks some of the donated clothing items Monday evening at the store for the displaced victims of Sunday morning's Manchester apartment building fire. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - The day after fire burned the roof off the apartment building where she lived with her husband of 45 days and their year-old daughter, Brittany Michaud emerged red-eyed from her heavily damaged unit.

After being forced from the building around 2 a.m. Sunday, she had just seen inside the apartment where her family had lived only since Nov. 1.

"It's not probably as bad as everybody else," she said through tears.

The Michauds lived on the first floor. Upper stories in the structure were the most heavily damaged by flame, smoke and water.

Still, the possessions with which she and her husband, Michael, were starting their married life, along with daughter Serenity's clothing, toys, crib mattress and bedding, were ruined.

The fire, still under investigation by the Manchester Fire Department, is believed to have started in electrical wiring in a corner of a first-floor corner apartment before spreading rapidly up the side of the nine-unit apartment building. Much of the roof was burned away.

As Michaud looked inside and her husband waited with their baby, landlord Osey Cadran met with tenants and an insurance adjuster outside the building at 5-11 Barr St.

"I feel bad for these people. We were kind of like an extended family. We want to help as best we can," said Cadran, who owns 10 apartment buildings in Manchester. "I had one vacant apartment and I offered it to one of the tenants and I've been contacting landlords to see what properties they may have available."

The Red Cross responded to the fire scene, and representatives worked Sunday and Monday to arrange emergency assistance along with referrals to agencies that could provide long-term assistance and help finding a new place to live.

By Monday night, all but one resident had spoken with Red Cross workers.

"Some went home with friends and relatives, but others with no place to go were put up in a hotel for the night," said Lisa Michaud, a spokesman for the Red Cross.

The agency provided emergency food, winter clothing and essential toiletries, provided by the Red Cross through donations from individuals, businesses and foundations.

"It comes from the American people," Michaud said. "We are delivering their generosity."

The emergency assistance helped with immediate needs, but for working class residents, including several immigrants who lived in the building, the fire ruined much of what they owned.

Like his newlywed neighbors, Karna Gurung, an immigrant from Fiji, faces the prospect of starting over as a result of the fire.

Gurung had lived in the building since shortly after arriving in the country. He worked as a bus boy; his wife is a hotel housekeeper. The couple have a 3-year-old child.

"I was in bed when my wife woke up when the police knocked on the door," Gunrung said. "I took my baby and my documents and ran out to the street."

Items he had acquired for his life in a new country are now useless due to the water firefighters poured on the roof fire.

"I had a laundry for wash and a laundry for dry and a refrigerator. All the water came and dropped and it is all ruined," he said.

Spontaneous generosity by people he doesn't know may make getting started again a little easier.

By midday on Sunday, people started donating clothing, furniture and furnishings to help the 30 residents rebuild their lives.

The first plea for help came in a Sunday morning Facebook posting that spread quickly through friends and then through friends of friends.

Shelly Therrien, who manages two dry cleaning stores owned by building owner Cadran, became the coordinator for donations.

"People were very responsive in sharing. We were getting calls from people about what to give and where to give," she said. "People have been bringing in bags of clothing."

Some offered furniture, and Therrien said the storage unit that Cadran is arranging to place at the building will be used to store donations that will be sent to the new apartments of the people displaced in the Barr Street fire.

Initial donations have been left at a dry cleaning shop Cadran owns in the Shaw's plaza on South Willow Street, which is equipped with a 24-hour drop-off window, she said. Bags of clothing for the victims should be marked "donation" she said.

Therrien said the fire happened just days after she decided to get involved with the Salvation Army in its annual campaign with the New Hampshire Union Leader Santa Fund to help families with essentials over the holiday season.

"When this happened it really just struck home, I saw how important it is," Therrien said. "They were wrapping themselves up in towels to keep warm - it's different to know about something in theory and then see it in reality."

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