A hub for Sandy relief in Long Beach -- a city hard-hit by the superstorm -- was gutted by fire early Tuesday, dealing a psychological blow to the city.
Fire officials said they were investigating the cause of the blaze, which broke out about 2:40 a.m. at the Knights of Columbus building at 970 W. Beech St. and destroyed its interior. The fire, which took about two hours to bring under control, did not appear suspicious, a city spokesman said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, charred remains of furniture, flame-singed walls and electrical wiring were spread across the building's wet interior. Workers attempted to salvage memorabilia as light came through a hole in the devastated roof.
The building recently was a center for relief meals, said Michael Marlowe, who went there three times a week for food because he has no kitchen in his home due to the storm.
"This is tough, man," he said. "I've been living on food donated from this place."
Mike Mechow, a senior member of the fraternal organization, said the loss of the 81-year-old building is a blow to the community because of numerous charitable events the group has held there over the years.
"We've had the best benefits out of this place," he said "We've done more for more people."
Mechow added that the building suffered major flood damage during Sandy and repairs were about to start. "The plans were to refurbish the building," he said.
Residents in the neighborhood said the center was one of the few places on the West End where people could gather because many businesses were wiped out by Sandy.
"It was a beacon of light at the end of our street," said Jennifer Dilchert, who lives around the corner.
Nassau County's police arson bomb squad is investigating, but a police news release said that there were no injuries and "the cause of the fire was determined to be nonsuspicious and undetermined."
Sgt. Eric Cregeen of the Long Beach Police Department said that while the building sustained heavy damage, none of the surrounding homes or buildings were affected by the fire.
"They were there the whole time after the hurricane. It's an institution in the West End and we hope they rebuild," said Richard Corbett, Long Beach fire chief. With Gary Dymski