About 100 people are still looking for a place to stay after a three-alarm fire at the Gateway Estates apartments on Ellington Road early Tuesday morning.
Investigators were still trying to determine what sparked the fire at an apartment building that's been plagued by cases of arson in the past.
Forty units were affected by the massive blaze, which forced residents to escape the building by jumping from windows. Entire families needed to escape from the fire, and witnesses said children were tossed from windows to ensure they were safe.
"Sometimes our numbers slightly increase on the second day only because some of the people who have stayed with family and friends can't do that a second and a third night," said shelter manager Harvey Harpin.
The Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross said nearly 100 people, many still in their pajamas, headed to the shelter located at the North End Senior Center. Red Cross volunteers provided hot meals and began working with families affected to assess needs.
"The only thing I grabbed was my son," said Najah Smith.
Smith was one of around 40 people who stayed at the Red Cross shelter set up at at East Hartford High School Tuesday night and provided residents with snacks and meals as well as clothes and toiletries. The shelter will remain open one more evening.
"Because some people arrived in pajamas, we have been working to provide families help with emergency clothing needs," said American Red Cross spokesperson Paul Shipman.
On Wednesday, more than 60 residents attended an informational session with officials from East Hartford and the American Red Cross.
"We are grateful to the many volunteers who have stepped up to support these families," Shipman said in a statement Wednesday. "We are in our second full day of operation and could not do this work without their help or with financial donations from the public."
Building 231 at Gateway Estates is expected to be inhabitable for months.
Smith told Eyewitness News as long as it's not another apartment at Gateway Estates she's OK. There were five suspected arson cases in her building before Tuesday's fire, and at least in her mind, there's no doubt this latest fire was set as well.
"They say there's like open apartments still in like Gateway Estates but we don't want to stay there," Smith said. "They don't know who the arsonist is, so what if the arsonist is around us?"
Smith and others told Eyewitness News they wonder why the management at this complex didn't install surveillance cameras after the first few suspected arsons. Officials did install new locks in building 231 after someone lit a dozen small fires last week.
Eyewitness News tried asking Carmelo Milio, who has been identified as the person in charge of the property management company, but he drove away without speaking to the station.
According to its website, the management company, Milio Realty, has 1000 rental, condo and commercial units it oversees in New York and Connecticut.
Anyone interested in donating to victims is asked to click on the following link.
Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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