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Donations Pour In For Victims Of Massive Fire At Edgewater, NJ Apartment Complex

EDGEWATER, N.J.(CBSNewYork) -- Donations have been pouring in for more than a thousand residents who were displaced by a massive fire at a New Jersey apartment complex.

Everything from shoes to clothing and even children's toys filled up a collection center Friday at the City Place shopping center on River Road in Edgewater.

"This community came together so fast," one man told WCBS 880's Levon Putney. "It's not even only Edgewater. It's surrounding towns, New York."

All of the items are being donated from people who say they had to help those now left homeless by the blaze.

"Toiletries, things for women, socks, you know, warm stuff," said Jane Stern, who dropped off items to donate. "How could you not? They lost everything. It's heartbreaking, really is."

Donations Pour In For Victims Of Massive Fire At Edgewater Apartment Complex

Debbie Veloce said helping out is her way of repaying those who helped her in a time of need. Superstorm Sandy forced her out of her home for nine months.

"Just stuff that they could go through day by day because I went through this. We had nothing. We lost everything in Hoboken," she told CBS2's Valerie Castro. "It's sad. It brings back memories."

With donations stacking up, there is still more needed.

"Things for babies, a lot of women that were displaced were pregnant so they've got babies on the way. Infant car seats, swings, blankets, playpens, pack and plays," Mindy Gale, who is leading the donation efforts, told CBS2's Meg Baker.

The devastating five-alarm fire that ripped through the Avalon at Edgewater complex on Wednesday destroyed 240 units, permanently displacing 500 residents and temporarily displacing another 520 residents from surrounding buildings.

PHOTOS: Edgewater, N.J. Apartment Complex Fire

Many residents lost everything.

"It's devastating seeing your place go down like that and people destroyed, you know, and in a lot of pain," said displaced resident Dina Gomez. "I thank God I've got my family and that's what's most important to me. Other things can be replaced."

"There's debris everywhere," said a man named Barry, whose children lived in the complex. "I actually saw birthday cards that I gave my kids on the floor of the collapsed building."

He told 1010 WINS' Rebecca Granet that he picked up a $250 check the apartment complex offered his family as well as reimbursement for January's rent.

"They offered us to stay at a different Avalon in Hackensack but there's no way, sorry to say, I would never live in this complex again," he said.

Gov. Chris Christie met with residents Thursday at the Edgewater Community Center where many are now gathering donated supplies and meals.

"The fact that there was no loss of life here is really a blessing," he said.

The Red Cross and others are helping victims find apartments, medicine and other services.

Volunteers spent the day sorting the donated items and distributing them to victims as they come by. The center was open until 8:30 p.m. to give everyone a chance to gather whatever they need.

Donations Pour In For Victims Of Massive Fire At Edgewater, NJ Apartment Complex

Mayor Michael McPartland said a fund has also been set up at Another donation site has been set up at

Because so many have donated, there is a new drop-off location for donations at Edgewater Commons in the empty store next to Marshalls.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported, crews will be on site for days undertaking a massive clean up.

Nearby homeowners were also left picking up the pieces.

"Yeah this is the worst of it. And there are cracks over there, some place," Frank Khoury said.

His three story home across Undercliff Avenue from the Avalon fire site suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

The blaze sent smoke into nearby homes and thousands of water seeped into walls.

"Emotionally and psychologically I was pretty destroyed. When I saw the flames, I said this brought back bad memories.

When a fire at the same spot erupted 15 years ago Khoury's house burned down. It took him 4 years to rebuild.

"My wife and son said, 'We're not going back there anymore if the house is gone,' and I said, 'I agree.' But it's still standing. Thank God. Thank God every second, you know?" he said.

Edgewater Police Chief William Skidmore said the blaze was sparked by workers using a blow-torch to make repairs to a leak.

"A plumbing repair ignited a fire in the wall which then spread through the building,'' he said Thursday. "It was accidental, there was nothing suspicious about it, and we have complete verification and there's no doubt about it.''

Skidmore said the maintenance workers tried to douse the fire, but things soon got out of control.

Crews Still On Scene Of Massive Fire At NJ Apartment Complex

"They tried to suppress it themselves and then they called their supervisor," he said. "It was a very big contributor to it because there was a delay in the response of the fire department."

The delay combined with the lightweight wood construction of the building turned hundreds of homes into a pile of rubble and ash.

Officials Tout Progress After Edgewater Apartment Complex Fire

"If it was made out of concrete and cinder block, we wouldn't have this problem," Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said, adding the building complied with construction codes.

Jacobson said the sprinklers were working and went off, but they were no match for these flames. Two civilians and two firefighters sustained minor injuries.

Inspectors will check the apartment complex Friday and depending on those inspections, some residents may be able to return home soon.

This isn't the first time the very same apartment complex has been engulfed in flames.

In August of 2000, the complex was under construction when a fast-moving fire tore through it. The flames also destroyed a dozen surrounding homes, displacing up to 70 people.

The 2000 fire was ruled accidental by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.


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