May 9, 2013

Hurting but grateful: Lewiston fire victims share their stories

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Almost all of the fire victims are refugees from Africa, fleeing war and violence in their own countries to seek better lives in the United States.

They lost nearly everything they owned in the three fires that destroyed nine buildings in downtown Lewiston in the space of a week.

And then there was the emotional toll.

On Wednesday, about 30 families packed into the Lewiston branch of a state agency to seek help, meeting with landlords and property managers who might be willing to offer them a more permanent home than the emergency shelter where most of them have taken refuge.

Here are some of their stories: 

'WE'LL DO IT (ON OUR OWN) AGAIN'

For Adriana Garcia, the hardest thing to lose was her iPod -- a Mother's Day present from her son in Texas, whom she hasn't seen in four years.

It came in the mail four days before the April 29 fire that heavily damaged the apartment building where she lived and that she managed on Bates Street.

Her son got her the iPod so they could use FaceTime, and finally be able to look into each other's eyes again when they spoke, she said.

Garcia still needed to set up an Internet connection to use it, but hadn't done that before the fire occurred, she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Since the fire, Garcia, 58, and her husband have been sleeping on a friend's floor. She left the housing fair Wednesday without much hope of finding an apartment soon. She said she planned to save up money and try to find a place they can afford even after her husband's income from doing industrial roofing falls off in the winter.

"We've always done it on our own, and we'll do it again," she said.

She has already called her son to tell him about the fire and about the lost iPod. He wasn't as upset about the loss as she was.

"He said, 'Mom, we can replace that. I can't replace your life,'" she said.

'WE STILL GOT EACH OTHER'

Issa Aden was outside the apartment where he lived with his mother on Pierce Street when the fire started Friday in a nearby building.

"We thought our apartment was going to be saved," he said. "There was no fire."

But the fire spread, and authorities told them it wasn't safe to go back into his apartment. His mother was allowed to get her blood pressure medication, he said, but nothing else.

Aden, 25, came to the U.S. from Somalia in 2006. He earned his high school diploma in 2011 through Job Corps. He wants that piece of paper back more than anything else he left behind in the apartment.

In the meantime, Aden and his mother have been staying with his sister and her seven kids for the past couple of days.

Although he fears they lost everything from the apartment, he was grateful they still had their lives. "We still got each other," he said.

'I HOPE IT WILL BE FOUND OUT WHY'

Kalilwa Kalunga, who is separated from Katarina Kizyala, lived in a nearby apartment in the same Pierce Street building.

He had just unloaded his car after a trip to Walmart when he saw smoke outside a window. He called 911 and told the dispatcher there was no time to talk, to get help on the way.

(Continued on page 2)

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