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Valley Stream business owners eye fire damage

Pedestrians walk past the fire damaged row of

Pedestrians walk past the fire damaged row of stores on West Merrick Rd. in Valley Stream which burned late Wednesday night, leaving business owners scrambling to get their businesses up and running today. (Aug. 9, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

Business owners gathered Thursday morning to assess the damage caused by a fire that affected at least eight Valley Stream storefronts.

For Israel Samedy, owner of Valley of Blessings Technologies, the scene late Wednesday had been surreal.

"You could see the flames coming from the top. Not just smoke," said Samedy, who rushed over to the site at 11:15 p.m., responding to a colleague's call.

"After they thought they had put out all the fire, smoke was still coming from the roof," said Samedy, 45, of Valley Stream. Firefighters had to cut open the roof of his business to release the smoke, he said.

Shortly before 4 a.m., police allowed Samedy to view his business, but he could only bring himself to peek in. "I didn't have the stomach to continue looking at it," he said.

One hundred firefighters from Valley Stream, Lynbrook, Rockville Centre, Elmont, Malverne, Inwood and Woodmere battled the blaze with about 20 pieces of equipment for more than four hours, police said. There were no injuries.

Nassau County police said Arson/Bomb Squad detectives and the Nassau County fire marshal are investigating. The cause of the fire has not been determined, said Nassau County police spokesman James Imperiale Thursday.

"It's not suspected to be suspicious," said James Hickman, supervisor of the Nassau fire marshal's investigations division.

The fire began at 10:50 p.m. Wednesday at Merrick Dry Cleaners, on West Merrick Road near Shaw Avenue, police said. The fire then spread to the other businesses, which were all in a row -- destroying some and damaging others.

Thursday, owners gathered on a sidewalk littered with glass, with the air still full of the scent of smoke, as workers boarded up several buildings with wood.

At Universal Martial Arts Center, photos of people wearing white uniforms with different color belts and medals around their necks hung undamaged on a wall near the front window. But debris was evident. A handwritten sign said the business was closed and instructed people to "call first" or "check with us on Facebook."

"I was a little taken back when I came," said Bobby DeVivo, 48, of East Northport, who has owned Dale Drug for 17 years and worked there for 30 years. "Everything is damaged."

Some of DeVivo's loyal customers visited to offer support, exchanging handshakes and promising aid.

"It's really sad," said one woman, who declined to give her name. "I've used them for more than 33 years."

It was comforting, DeVivo said, but he still worried about losing new customers. He plans to open in a temporary location on Monday.

"I'm a little devastated," he said. "At some moment . . . I'll break."

While insurance adjusters chatted with some owners, others used elbow grease.

Peter Antoniadis, 48, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, brought a generator to his Marble Care and Construction business. Workers used it to power a saw to cut a marble countertop.

"I can continue the business to a point," he said, adding that the generator would not operate all of his tools. "I have big contracts to do and now I'm going to be in big trouble."

Antoniadis said he hoped to have electricity "in a few days." His business had minor visible damage -- a cut gate and doors with evidence of smoke.

"I have some relief," Antoniadis said. "But I don't know if I'll get money for the damages or for the losses."

At Laundry Express, workers wore masks and yellow gloves to clean dryers and sweep the debris. "There's a lot of smoke inside," said Gloria Suazo, 35, of Valley Stream, who owns the laundry with her husband, Javier, 42. Customers came to pick up their smoke-damaged laundry, but Suazo didn't charge them.

"It's very hard for us," she said. "We just started the business three years ago. We put everything into this."

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