Indian Families’ Homes, Immigration Papers Destroyed in N.J. Fire

The fire at Colonial Gardens apartment complex displaced 52 families. (Photo via Desi Talk)

Dozens of Indian families are gathering the pieces of their shattered lives after a massive blaze destroyed their homes in Woodbridge, New Jersey on July 10, Desi Talk reported. Though there were no casualties, the fire destroyed the 52-unit Colonial Gardens apartment complex located in the Avenal section of Woodbridge.

The Telugu Association of North America told Desi Talk that 90 percent of the residents of the 52 destroyed units were recent immigrants of Telugu origin from southern parts of India. Some Indian families lost their immigration documents and identification papers.

Mohan Nannapaneni, executive vice president of TANA, told Desi Talk that all the affected families were recent immigrants working as software professionals.

Along with everyday possessions, they lost vital documents such as passports, green cards and visas. Local news reports said many of the residents have been put up in alternative accommodations or are staying with friends.

Residents described scenes of chaos during the fire, which broke out at 3 p.m. Its cause is still under investigation, and the complex has been declared too dangerous to return to.

Sudhakar Paganti was at work when the fire broke out. He told the Asbury Park Press that his mother-in-law alerted his wife, who grabbed their 1½-year-old daughter and left the unit. In her haste to get to safety, she didn’t even stop to put on shoes, he said.

Another tenant, Vittal Thumsi, told The Star-Ledger that he was in his apartment when someone knocked on his door. He grabbed his sleeping 5-year-old son and ran out.

“People were all in a panic, running here and there,” Thumsi told the paper. “People were trying to help each other. It was flames coming out of one house.”

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac told The Star Ledger that debris will be scooped out of the destroyed building and then the residents will be allowed to sift through it for any missing valuables. McCormac’s office, according to media reports, is working with residents to expedite the process of getting their driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers. The apartment management company has moved some of the displaced families to other rental communities in Middlesex County. Others are staying with friends or in motels.

Many affected did not have renters insurance, [Woodbridge township spokesman John] Haggerty said, adding that it is something renters do not consider, although it comes in handy in situations like these.”One of the hardest things to deal with regarding the fire is the fact that many of the renters don’t have insurance and it’s relatively inexpensive,” McCormac was quoted as saying in The Star-Ledger. “The apartments carry insurance, but it does not cover contents. People are on their own when it comes to insurance.”

The complex was built in the 1970s, and the two burned buildings were converted warehouses, according to the Star-Ledger.

Haggerty said the buildings didn’t have a fire suppression or detection system. All that was required in the apartments were hard-wired smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide detection system.

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