Crews work to save artifacts from fire that gutted historic building in Chinatown

CHINATOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- Crews continue work to salvage any surviving historical artifacts from the Museum of Chinese in America that was gutted in the devastating five-alarm fire in Chinatown last week.

Some 85,000 artifacts that tell the story of the Chinese migration to the United States were feared lost in the fire, which tore through the historic building at Mulberry and Bayard streets Thursday just days before the celebration of the Lunar New Year.

Workers could be seen carrying out boxes containing documents that appeared to be intact, but it remains unclear exactly how many pieces could be saved. Amazingly, it appears to number in the thousands.

Thousands of priceless artifacts documenting the rich history of Chinese immigration to this country are now being recovered even after they were first thought to have been lost.

"Everything we took out of the building this morning is very much salvageable," museum President Nancy Yao Maasbach said. "this is a miracle. This is nothing shy of a Lunar New Year miracle. This is amazing."

She said 200 boxes containing tens of thousands of artifacts dating back 200 years were carefully carried out, some of them dry and seemingly undamaged while others were damaged and water soaked.

"The wet ones went directly into a truck that went to freeze, stabilize and then freeze dry in Allentown, Pennsylvania," she said.

Roughly 150 dry boxes went to the museum's main site on Centre Street, where they are being stored.

"This is not just the story of Chinatown, this is a story of Chinese immigration to this country," Maasbach said the day after the fire. "And what we have been striving to do is tell these stories, because they're not in US textbooks."

The FDNY says nine people were hurt, including eight firefighters, and much of the building was destroyed. At one point, fire crews fighting the flames from inside the building had to back out due to structural concerns.

The city-owned building housed the museum archives as well as a senior center, job training center, dance studio, and the United East Athletics Association. It was described as a "cornerstone to Chinatown."

The community is said to be devastated, and officials now trying to find alternative spaces for the businesses lost.

"We recognize the urgency to make sure that the needs of the displaced community groups and the New Yorkers that they serve are met," City Council member Margaret Chen said.

One group finding temporary space is the Chinatown Senior Center, which provides valuable services and hot meals to 300 seniors.

"We know that as a community we will continue to pull together and move forward from this tragedy," Chinese American Planning Council President Wayne Ho said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but no criminality is suspected.

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