Nearly three weeks after a fire and a multiple water main breaks caused major disruptions along Lakeview Drive and Pemart Aveue, residents continued to search for answers during Monday’s Peekskill Common Council meeting.
“I’m not going to quit until you guys help me,” said Alonzo Thompson, one of the people who lost their homes during the March 21 apartment building fire in Hudson View Estates complex. “I’m not. The city, somebody has got to help me for losing everything that we worked hard for.”
The fire displaced 14 families, according to officials from the American Red Cross. While many have been able to find new homes, others are still struggling to get back on their feet.
During the fire, a secondary water main broke in the area of Highland Avenue and Garfield Street while firefighters tried to draw water from a nearby hydrant.
Some residents maintain that main break caused firefighters to lose water during the fire. Mayor Mary Foster and fire Chief Robert Fiorio have said that the break caused a decrease in water pressure, but did not result in a complete loss of water.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Foster said the city is waiting for the findings of Westchester County fire investigators, along with information from the neighboring fire departments who assisted Peekskill. Once that information is submitted, Foster said she planned to create on comprehensive report on the incident.
Foster said it could take months before county fire investigators file their report.
But the fire isn’t the only thing residents seek answers to. City officials had to deal with at least three other water main breaks in the days following the fire.
Residents of Lakeview Drive, Pemart Avenue and other nearby roads were given boil water advisories by the Westchester County Department of Health until the situation was corrected.
Foster said officials were still investigating the cause of the water system failure.
“We have asked for our fire department and our city engineer to provide back to the city Council a comprehensive report of what the service is to all of the high points in the city, how many continuous loops of water pipes versus dead end pipes that we have, where they think the vulnerabilities are for firefighting and what the recommendations are for us to address them.”
Foster also said that Deputy Mayor Drew Claxton has reached out to U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, for possible grants to help with water infrastructure and that the Council has reached out to state officials for possible grants.
Councilwoman Marybeth McGowan said the Council also wanted to look into the ways it communicates with residents during emergencies.
Jesus Encarnacion, a resident of Hudson View Estates who was affected by the disruption in water service, said he is disappointed by the Council’s response during the ordeal.
“Here you all are, as paid sworn officials of the city, and all you do is stare at people like their stupid…you make a lot of false statements to the news media, you lie to the people of this city,” Encarnacion said.
Thompson said his wife and three children are still seeking assistance in the aftermath of the fire. The Department of Social Services told him that he wasn’t eligible for food stamps because his family had too much money saved.
Thompson was also told that he isn’t eligible for Section 8.
“I’m not going to go empty my bank account because the fire department was fighting the fire with one hose,” Thompson said. “I don’t think that’s fair to me or my family or anyone else who was living up there.”
Foster said the city didn’t have a food stamps program, but has done other things to assist residents.
“Our Section 8 office did reach out to HUD to see if there was any way of getting emergency vouchers for people so they could get into apartments,” Foster said. “The senior citizens have been relocated to Peekskill Plaza. I know at least two have been relocated and so to the extent that there are things can be done, they have been done. Some of the tenants had renter’s insurance, some do not. And so everybody’s circumstances change in terms of how they recover.”
Leesther Brown, a Peekskill resident, still believes the city can do more to help remaining fire victims who haven’t found homes back on their feet.
“I don’t think these people are asking you to dig in your pocket and give them anything,” Brown said.