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Residents mourn woman who died, sort out next steps after Kenwood high-rise fire

Residents wonder what's next after devastating Kenwood high-rise fire
Residents wonder what's next after devastating Kenwood high-rise fire 02:55

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Following an extra-alarm fire that climbed nearly 10 floors of a Kenwood neighborhood high-rise building, more than 100 families were without a home – and a retired schoolteacher had lost her life.

As CBS 2's Marissa Perlman reported, the Chicago Department of Buildings says half of the Harper Square Cooperative residential building, at 4850 S. Lake Park Ave., was not accessible Wednesday night because of water damage. The insurance and management companies will now be coming in to find out how residents will get back in.

For an idea of how widespread the damage was, a total of 133 units in the building were impacted by the fire and cannot be accessed. In the meantime, we are learning more about the woman on the 15th floor who lost her life.

"Poor elderly lady lost her life," said Eli Williams.

Williams said the woman who died was a retired schoolteacher in her 80s. Her son lives on Williams' floor in the building.

"They lost everything," he said. "They're hurting."

On Wednesday morning, Williams got the call from his wife and daughter inside. They made it out okay, but others were not so lucky. Williams said some people came home from work Wednesday to find out their homes had been destroyed.

Jauntanne Mayes grew up in the building. She calls the woman who died family.

"They found an elderly woman deceased from smoke inhalation on the 15th floor - and that's the floor that my aunt stayed on - and I came back because I wanted to check to see how she was doing; if she was okay, because I had been trying to call her phone and nobody had been able to reach her," Mayes said, "and then I was just informed that she was the person that passed away."

It is believed the fire started on the 15th floor where the woman lived.

"A really nice person that will be missed," Mayes said.

Propelled by the wind, the fire climbed up to the 24th floor. Tenants saw the fire climbing past their windows, and felt the heat in their apartments.

Late Wednesday, fire crews were hauling trash bags of debris into trucks outside. Meanwhile, so much is still unknown.

"If I lost my house, I can't lose my job," said resident Oluyinka Bankole. "I have to go back to work on Friday."

Shakira Mason Holloway brought supplies and a little light to her aunt, who lives on the 23rd floor.

"Help is here," Holloway said. "Help has never left."

Holloway's aunt escaped the fire by climbing onto the roof of the building.

"She had to come down 25 fights of stairs," Holloway said.

Holloway's aunt will not know the real damage to her home for days. But Holloway says she is keeping the faith that that they will move forward.

"Fire can't beat God," Holloway said.

The Salvation Army and Red Cross are part of a team helping with food and clothing and addressing immediate needs.

The agencies will help with housing needs on a case-by-case basis.

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