300 homeless after fire tears through building in Hempstead

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N.J. Burkett speaks with victims in Hempstead. (WABC)

About 300 people are homeless Friday following a wind-swept fire that tore through a Long Island apartment complex.

At least 38 residents are being housed at Hempstead High School, while twice as many spent the night there after at least 18 apartments in Hempstead Village were completely destroyed by the massive fire Thursday. The mayor says that the tenants of those apartments will be relocated in the coming days.

Luckily, no one was killed.

Residents were evacuated after the multi-alarm fire raced through the building, with the thick, choking smoke sending them scrambling down the stairwells and staggering to the street. Volunteer firefighters converged on the scene from more than a dozen communities.

The flames ripped across the upper floors and shot through the roof. The fire, which was apparently started by a welder's torch, was placed under control just before 4 p.m.

On one of the the most brutally, dangerously frigid day of the year, Hempstead firefighters cut holes in the roof so they could get water on the blaze eating through the building. But the wind might as well have been gasoline.

"The wind, the wind was terrible,"one firefighter said. "The smoke would switch direction, and the fire had a pretty good head start on us."

Firefighters battled the blaze from the floors and from the outside and from the roof, and still it burned. The aftermath was devastating.

"I'm blessed, really blessed," fire victim Zandra Howard said.

The 63-year-old Howard is alive and warm, and that she say that's enough.

Pictures obtained exclusively by Eyewitness News show just how extensive the damage really is, from charred and exposed beams in the roof to entire walls ripped-open. The water damage alone is severe.

Contractors are working to secure the apartments, and utility crews are working to restore service to hundreds of apartments that were undamaged.

The mayor of Hempstead says the vast majority will be able to return to their homes beginning Saturday, which can't come soon enough for Simone Ballinger, who has a 3-month-old son.

One child was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

The large complex houses 420 apartments.

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fireapartment fireHempstead
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