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Port Lavaca apartment fire leaves families homeless

By Elena Watts
May 24, 2013 at 12:24 a.m.

Edwin Gonzalez surveys the damage in his apartment after a horrific experience when his bedroom filled with smoke and flames. Black soot, melted appliances and computers littered the single-bedroom apartment  in the Shell Rose complex.  Paint on the exterior door of his apartment bubbled up and peeled off from the extreme heat.

PORT LAVACA - Edwin Gonzalez, 61, hung his long, gold chain with its crucifix pendant around the bathroom doorknob. It was an old gift from his son, who lives in New York.

When he returned, the door and the necklace were missing along with everything else, destroyed by fire.

At 4:20 p.m. Thursday, the Port Lavaca Fire Department received an emergency call about a fire at the Shell Rose Apartments, an 18-unit complex at 1917 Shofner Drive.

Fire Investigator Derek Hook said two of the four units in the building facing Hollomon Drive were heavily damaged by the fire, while the other two sustained moderate smoke and water damage. As of Friday, he did not have a cause for the fire and anticipated wrapping up his investigation by the end of next week.

Ten people from six families were displaced by the fire, said Linda May, emergency services director with the American Red Cross. The organization provided food, clothing and a two-night motel stay for the families.

Gonzalez lived in the upstairs apartment where the fire started.

Gonzalez's roommate, Irene Carrera, 38, smelled what she thought was an electrical fire. When the apartment filled with smoke, Gonzalez turned off the breakers and called 911.

When firefighters removed the horizontal board between the two apartment floors, Gonzalez said, the fire ignited. It ravaged the interior within 30 minutes.

He did not have renter's insurance.

He has no idea where he will live when he leaves the Chaparral Motel. He does not know anyone with whom he can stay.

He lost all of his possessions, including the necklace, except for a bicycle locked at the base of his apartment's wooden staircase.

"We lost everything in one moment," Gonzalez said.

"You feel bad when you see it happen to other people," Carrera said. "But when it happens to you, you're just numb."

Counted among the destruction were photographs, paperwork, a camera, movies, thousands of baseball cards and a collection of opera LPs including Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

"I always wanted to post those old baseball cards online," Gonzalez said. "I never got the chance to see what they were worth."

Less meaningful, but nonetheless important, was the food stamp card that perished. Gonzales is unemployed.

He has his air conditioning and refrigerator technician certification and worked for two years in maintenance for a motel in Port Lavaca before he lost his job four months ago.

He continued living in the upstairs apartment rent free in exchange for assistance with upkeep around the complex. He helped the owner, Don Tyson, paint, clean, install new sewer lines and lay carpet.

He has submitted job applications with little success because he said most of the jobs are in Victoria, well out of bicycle range.

He has also applied for disability benefits because of a childhood cataract and subsequent trauma that resulted in the loss of his left eye. A less severe cataract, which he describes as brown mesh, diminishes the sight in his other eye.

Gonzalez and Tyson speculated that the fire was somehow linked to work recently completed by the electric company.

Tyson has insurance, but he is not sure how long the apartment restoration will take.

"We're just taking it day by day," Gonzalez said. "Mr. Tyson said he might be able to help."



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