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Days after fire, families kept from homes

Residents, after a 5 alarm fire on Sunday,

Residents, after a 5 alarm fire on Sunday, are still not permitted into their apartment at 590 Fulton Avenue in Hempstead. (June 19, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

More than 120 families living at the Hempstead apartment building damaged by fire Sunday will remain locked out of their homes for at least another day as officials scramble to make dozens of water- and smoke-damaged units habitable again.

Displaced residents of Fulton Manor, at 590 Fulton Ave., are living in shelters, motel rooms, friends' homes and even a parking lot in the wake of a massive fire that officials said began when a stove in a second-floor unit ignited. The exact cause of the blaze is still a mystery. No one was injured.

Arthur Chenault, superintendent of Hempstead Village's building department, said once the Nassau County fire marshal tests the standpipe, used for firefighting, and clears the building, his staff will inspect each apartment to make sure it is safe for residents to return -- a process that takes "about an hour per apartment."

Scott Tusa, assistant chief fire marshal, said that contractors hope to have the standpipe ready for testing today.

Private security guards watched building entrances Tuesday, and Hempstead police officers arrived on the scene about 3 p.m. to calm frustrated residents screaming at each other. No arrests were made.

Samantha Fountain, Hempstead deputy village clerk, said that about 120 families in the rent-stabilized building were left homeless by the fire.

Residents were frustrated by the delay. "They keep telling us 'later today,' every day," said Katina Bailey, 39. "It's horrifying."

Gregory Waring, 31, who receives Supplemental Security Income because of a disability due to mental-illness, said he has not been able to take his psychiatric medication since Sunday because his supplies are in his apartment.

"I'm sleeping in the back on the concrete," said Waring, who has lived in the building since 2006. "I don't have no place to go. To be out on the street, with no food, no nothing? That's crazy."

Damion Salmon, 33, a father of two trying to access his apartment, said, "I'm paying for a motel out of my damn pocket. But the money's running dry and I still got to pay rent at the end of the day."

Angry tenants waited for the landlord, Karan Singh, to emerge from his office Tuesday, and followed him while he ran from the building to his car. He hung up on Newsday when asked for comment.

Last November, tenants and building employees protested at Hempstead Village Hall, saying that despite getting a tax break from the Hempstead Industrial Development Agency, Singh had not improved building services. Singh, at the time, said tenant complaints had been addressed "to the best of my knowledge."

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