Two residents of a Toronto apartment building that caught fire last Friday have made an appeal for more community help in the wake of the blaze that left hundreds of people displaced.
Julia and Daniela Viana have been staying at a makeshift shelter at York University since the five-alarm blaze at the building on Gosford Boulevard.
“Emotionally, it’s been very, very tough. We’ve never been through something like this before,” Julia told reporters Friday morning.
“To be homeless is a difficult feeling.”
She and her sister Daniela, both 22 years old, regularly bring their eight-year-old brother to Blacksmith Public School.
School officials there heard about what happened to them and had them tell their story to reporters Friday morning in the hope that more community members will step forward and support affected residents with donations.
“It’s just the things we take for granted that I really appreciate now,” Daniela said through tears.
“It has been very emotional. I remember the first few days we were very tired. I couldn’t sleep because we worry about the next day, school, work.”
Julia and Daniela said they have so far been receiving support from the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the City of Toronto, but they are hoping more people will step forward to help the 22 families affected from the Toronto District School Board community and the 15 families affected at St. Augustine Catholic School.
“We’re here today basically just to get some support,” Daniela said.
The TDSB has launched a campaign to raise funds for affected students and their families, while the Toronto Catholic District School Board is also appealing for donations to assist their affected students.
“We have the holiday season coming and the more we can bring awareness to this issue and the damage that it’s caused to our community members, the more support we think we can get for them to help them find some stability back,” said Christopher Mammoliti, a TDSB trustee.
Daniela said she was in the building at the time of the fire, while Julia was on her way home from work.
Among their stories of the blaze, Julia said Daniela witnessed a man trapped on a balcony with flames behind him.
“(It was) honestly terrifying because you can’t help the guy,” Julia said, adding that witnesses started trying to do all they could to help him.
“A lot of them said ‘jump.’ A lot of them started to bring mattresses and couches that were by the dumpsters.”
Julia said the man later collapsed and went out of view.
Officials said one person, who has not been identified, died in the blaze.
Meanwhile, Julia and Daniela said they continue to stay at York University with their younger brother, older brother and mom.
They said they’ve been told they can remain at the makeshift shelter at York University for two weeks before they have to either move to another shelter or find somewhere else to stay.
“Now we need to think about permanent residence because people still need to work, we need to go to school,” Daniela said.
There is no word on when residents will be allowed back into the apartment building, which housed 354 people.
Residents have been allowed to temporarily enter the building to retrieve some belongings.
Police told Global News there have also been two reported thefts within the building since the fire.
The exact cause of the fire remains unclear, but officials said it began in a bedroom on the eighth floor.