May 9, 2013

Hurting but grateful: Lewiston fire victims share their stories

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

A refugee from Congo, Kalunga said he's seen scary things, but nothing like the fire.

Kalunga said he knows what to expect out of war. But it's different for someone to deliberately set fire to a house while people are sleeping inside, and not to know why or when it could happen again. "They take me to protect me," he said of why he came to America.

And though he doesn't feel safe right now, he said, he believes justice will be served, because it's America.

"It's a freedom country, and I hope it will be found out why they did that," she said.

'IF I FIND HOUSING, I'M HAPPY'

Katarina Kizyala lost the four-bedroom apartment where she lived with her three children on Friday, but on Wednesday, she was happy.

Kizyala's three children were in school while she was at the housing fair in Lewiston. When she saw them later, she would have good news.

Kizyala, 33, who moved to the U.S. from Congo in 2010, has been staying with her children at the emergency shelter, where babies have to take naps next to kids playing basketball. But not for long.

Through the housing fair, she found a new apartment for her family on Strawberry Avenue and might be able to move in within a couple of days.

Kizyala's whole family was in their apartment on Pierce Street when Friday's fire started. She was crying as she knocked on the doors of her neighbors, including a boy who was sleeping, on her way out of the building.

She came to the fair with all she had managed to salvage from her apartment -- a bag of documents. She left the fair with a smile.

"I sleep in the high school, I'm not happy," she said. "If I find housing, I'm happy."

'I THOUGHT IT WAS A JOKE'

Isaak Abdi had gotten home from the mosque just a couple of minutes before Friday night's fire when he saw something red outside his apartment on Pierce Street.

"I thought it was a joke," he said.

Then his younger sister started yelling "Fire." He grabbed what was most important to him: his mother.

Abdi, 21, was unhappy that he lost school work from his first year at Central Maine Community College, but he was done for the semester. His 17-year-old sister, who is still in high school, had more reason to be upset.

Abdi's family, who originally came from Somalia, has been staying at the shelter at Lewiston High School and moved to the Colisee on Wednesday. He left the housing fair determined to find a new place to live by the end of the week.

Although Abdi was disappointed about losing everything, he was taking it in stride.

"It's a fire," he said. "What do you expect?"

More overwhelming, he said, was the assistance that came from the Red Cross, volunteers, other organizations and donations. He said he couldn't offer enough appreciation.

"Thanks to everybody," he said. "Whoever help us, thanks to them."

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