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Unity in adversity - Southside residents rally to save elderly as fire razes Good Shepherd, tenement yard

Published:Thursday | August 29, 2019 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter
Giselle Chuck (second right), assisted by friends, rummages through the charred remains of what was once her home. The property at which more than 20 residents lived at the corner of Fleet and Tower streets in downtown Kingston was completely destroyed by fire on Tuesday night.
A section of a storeroom at the Good Shepherd Home that was destroyed by the fire.
Two nuns survey the damage to the kitchen at the Good Shepherd Home.
Giselle Chuck picks up her passport as she sifts through the charred rubble of what was once her home.

Quick action by residents of Southside in Kingston resulted in the rescue of at least 60 elderly people after fire razed the Good Shepherd Home where they lived and levelled a nearby tenement yard, turning their possessions into smoke and soot.

Residents said the fire started some time after 10:30 p.m., allegedly by a youngster playing with matches. Those reports were not confirmed by firefighters, who said that none of the elderly residents in the home or the more than 20 residents of the adjoining tenement yard were injured.

“I looked at the people and they were breathing and the smoke was still in their lungs. They were terrified in their eyes,” said Father Richard Ho Lung, head of the Missionaries of the Poor, which operates eight shelters, including Good Shepherd, for impoverished and sickly Jamaicans downtown.

“I went right away … and the brothers bathed them, tried to calm them down, pray with them and tried to talk with them and give them something to eat, and so forth,” said Ho Lung, adding that the elderly residents were moved to another shelter on nearby Law Street, which was already crammed with roughly 100 residents.

“They don’t know where to go and what to do with their lives, but thank God, the homeless we have, they are very happy, I think, that at least the brothers are there,” said Ho Lung, who, hours after the blaze, was still praising the efforts of residents, who risked their safety to save the elderly from the inferno.

“They (residents) saw the brothers lifting out the people, and they just pushed themselves right in and lifted out the people, moved out the mattresses, and so on, outside. So I am really very thankful to them,” he said.

The aftermath

At dawn yesterday, it was realised that an office, the chapel, and a kitchen filled with supplies` had been reduced to ashes. Food spewed from burned-out tins as mattresses were reduced to their scrawny springs.

Next door, teenager Giselle Chuck, a resident of the tenement yard where more than 20 people lived, rummaged through charred rubble, hoping to find lost valuables. She found her passport. However, her joy was short-lived after she realised it had been severely damaged.

Geoffrey Murillo, another resident, managed to save some of his documents and a bed. Everything else was lost.

In the meantime, mother of four Michelle McLeod said all the back-to-school items she purchased for her children went up in flames, and she has no way of replacing them before the start of school next week.

“Me buy $6,000 worth of hardcover books – notebooks not in it, textbooks not in it, uniform and shoes not in it – and everything burn up,” she said, recounting how she awoke from her sleep after screams of “Fire!” from her daughter.

“I see everybody scraping out, but I couldn’t take out anything, so I just had to grab my pickney dem and run. We lose everything, trust me. So I don’t know how it going to go for school now,” she said.

Yesterday, representatives from the Peace Management Initiative visited the area and promised to assist the recovery efforts of some residents and their children.

Late yesterday afternoon, the People’s National Party also said that it would offer assistance to the fire victims. Senator Dr Floyd Morris also made a donation of $100,000 towards recovery efforts.

Ho Lung noted that the most important thing is to get the fire victims settled but that every effort would be made to rebuild the destroyed premises.