Scores of Indian-Americans were left homeless and numerous businesses destroyed by a seven-alarm fire March 4, that left residents of South Richmond Hill, N.Y., scrambling for alternatives and upset with local elected representatives
The Indian-American community as well as advocacy groups are demanding Mayor Bill de Blasio and local elected officials step forward to help the scores of people displaced by the devastating seven-alarm fire that destroyed numerous businesses and apartments in south Richmond Hill, March 4.
The fire on Liberty Avenue in South Richmond Hill, New York City, March 4, destroyed at least 7 businesses, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) told Desi Talk. It took FDNY almost four hours to bring it under control with the help of dozens of units from around the city. Luckily, there were no fatalities but several people were injured.
According to community organizations, more than 50 people, young and old, have been displaced and are put up temporarily in hotels. However, they were housed only until March 6, and are now in limbo. Local organizations like Chhaya Community Development Corporation are stepping in to help.
Frank Dwyer, spokesperson for FDNY said the station got a call at 10:52 p.m. on March 4 from 110-14 Liberty Ave. Fire trucks arrived at the scene within 3 minutes but it took till 2:40 am next morning to bring the fire under control. The fire started in a two-story building, but it escalated into a 7-alarm fire which took 200 fire fighters from 50 units to put out, Dwyer said.
The affected area is between what locals call “mini-Guyana” and “mini-Punjab.” One of the residents of mini-Punjab who was visiting mini-Guyana told Desi Talk the Wine & Liquor Store as well as Ghazal Beauty Parlor, were owned by Indians.
“The fire extended to 7 buildings which suffered fire damage and an additional 3 building were affected by water,” Dwyer said. Three civilians and two fire fighters suffered non-life threatening injuries. Fire Marshalls are investigating and will update the public on any new developments via their Twitter feed @fdny.
“The city has to do something. Why hasn’t the Mayor showed up? Even the local politicians have no reactions,” Annetta Seecharan, executive director of Chhaya CDC, said. Chhaya deals with housing issues and has already approached small business and other relevant agencies in city government to possibly extended the length of stay for the vulnerable individuals displaced, Seecharan said. “It’s not just the businesses that are affected. It is those living in apartments above the shops, poorer, more vulnerable people.” On March 9, an information session has been scheduled at Tulsi Mandir, 110-24, 111th Street, which organizers hope will update those affected about what the city and elected officials are doing.
“We have a situation here that needs attention and highlighting,” Vishnu Mahadeo, founder of the volunteer organization, Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, told Desi Talk. People are being asked to bring emergency supplies like food and clothing to drop off at 11024 – 111th Street,” in Richmond Hill. “My business was totally damaged. The building has to be taken down,” Mark (no last name provided), owner of Bobbie’s Travel Agency, told Desi Talk. He has operated at that location for 8 years. His tenants in the upstairs apartment, he said, had gone to stay with friends in Long Island while waiting for help. All the businesses affected are on the south side of Liberty Avenue (See List).
So far local elected officials representing the area have not responded, Mahadeo said. “Councilman Ruben Wills is missing in action. So is Assemblywoman Michele Titus,” he said. Wills, a Democrat, represents the 28th District which includes South Richmond Hill. Calls to Wills’ office were not returned. Assemblywoman Titus, who represents District 31, told Desi Talk Liberty Avenue did not fall within her jurisdiction, something Mahadeo contested.
However, New York State Senator James Sanders (District 10) and Councilman Michael Miller (District 38) who is not from this district have come to offer assistance and assess the situation. Sanders will be at the March 9 meeting.