ATLANTIC CITY — More than 300 residents displaced from a fire at Jeffries Tower last week could be looking at another several weeks until they get back home.
Housing Authority Executive Director Tom Hannon said Friday that while Calvi Electric Co. has been doing repairs to have the power restored by Tuesday, environmental testing needs to be done before they can safely let people back in the building, he said.
“No one anticipated this,” Hannon said. “When an event like this happens, in addition to getting them sheltered, we need to make sure they get meals and health care needs taken care of.”
The Charles P. Jeffries Tower Senior Apartments sustained smoke and electrical damage during the Jan. 4 blaze. The authority must make sure the building is 100 percent cleared before residents can move back in, and the environmental cleanup could take anywhere between seven and 21 days, he said.
Mayor Frank Gilliam, who was at the scene the night of the fire, said he’s grateful there are partners in the city to help make the process away from home less tedious, while it’s longer than anticipated.
“I know some of the folks are anxious to get home,” Gilliam said Friday. “But there was something significant that happened in their building. We want to make sure their safety is first.”
The fire erupted during last week’s blizzard. The Atlantic City Fire Department had firefighters carrying some of the 300 residents — many of whom were elderly and disabled — out of the 17-story building to ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures.
Fire Chief Scott Evans said Friday the cause of the fire and its origin are still under investigation.
The night of the fire, about 210 of the residents were placed at city hotels, including the Flagship Resort, Showboat Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort and the Travelodge Atlantic City on the White Horse Pike, Hannon said. An additional 100 people are staying with family or friends.
On Friday, Hannon said the residents placed in Harrah’s were moved to the Courtyard Marriot and the Baymont Inn and Suites. There’s a list of six other hotels who said they would provide rooms if needed, he said.
The whole process is coming at a cost to the Housing Authority and its insurance, Hannon said. As of now, the rooms are covered by insurance, but the authority would have to cover additional costs as the time extends, he said.
“It’s a lot of residents. It’s a lot of rooms,” he said. “The primary concern right now is making sure we can keep them housed as much as we can.”
The American Red Cross helped provide emergency financial assistance for 222 residents in the incident, while the Housing Authority took care of the lodging and meals, said Diane Concannon, communications director for the American Red Cross New Jersey region.
Hannon said between 35 and 50 authority workers at a time are working from 7 a.m. to about 10 p.m. doing twice-daily checks and providing meals for residents. The authority is also arranging access to transportation if the clients need it for medical reasons, he said.
Ricky Williamson, who lived on the eighth floor of Jeffries Tower, is now staying at Showboat. While he said it’s more inconvenient than home, the Housing Authority employees are in touch with him daily to make sure he has food to eat, he said.
“I’m alive,” said Williamson, 44. “It’s been hard for people who are disabled who depend on people who take care of them.”