Residents of Edgewater apartments destroyed by fire feel left out of demolition process

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EDGEWATER, N.J. (PIX11) -- Demolition of the Edgewater apartment building that burned down in January is looming.

Residents who lost their homes want to know when it's happening, so they can be there to be sure that belongings found in the wreckage are saved.

"It might just look like debris but to us and all the other families that were here, this was their home," said former Avalon Apartments resident Mary Dao.

But the Dao family and others who lost their homes say they are being left out of plans to do the tear down.

A crew arrived with a demolition crane at the site on Saturday, putting fire victims on edge. They say they have not been notified of any plans to begin the demolition this week.

"I'd like to know the day or two that they're hitting that corner," said Mark Blank, referencing the corner where his apartment used to sit, "I can't take off of work for 2-3 weeks, or however long it takes to get rid of it."

Mary Dao added, "Even if its just 1-2 people that lived here that can overlook the demo, I think it would give a lot of people a piece of mind."

Residents pointed to a purple dollhouse poking out of the snow-covered debris as an example of personal belongings that may be buried, but salvageable.

"In addition, what we are asking for is that when the debris is moved into a dumpster on the site, that it is stopped at a transfer station. And that there would be a larger group of residents there to sift through the debris," said former resident, Heather Jackson.

Residents who spoke to PIX11 on Saturday said they are concerned about how the job will be handled, because they are being in the dark about when and how the debris will be removed.

"We haven't gotten the response from Avalon that we are looking for so were asking for a lawmaker to help us push Avalon in that right direction," said Jeff Weiss, another former resident who lost his home to the fire.

Heather Jackson started an online petition in an effort to get lawmakers' attention. It's addressed to Governor Chris Christie, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco and State Senator Nicholas Sacco. As of this posting, 1,000 have signed on to support the petition.

"Just help us," asked former resident Mark Blank, who says he is thankful that what's most important to him made it out of the fire, his family.

Most were unable to remove much more, before the building went up rapidly in flames. Some lost their pets.

Mary Dao was home alone with her two newborn twins that day. Her infants were just 10 weeks old at the time. She grabbed her coat, put the babies into a stroller and left everything else she owned behind.

Her husband, Thai Dao, says he was disappointed when some of their things that did survive the fire went missing. Dao says it happened when AvalonBay moved their remaining belongings from storage units in the building garage and into a storage facility down the street. Then, adding insult to injury, there was a break in.

"A few days after I went to go look at the storage unit off-site, it was broken into," said Dao.

He says all that was missing was a flashlight. But Dao says more was taken from him that day, and in the days prior. He says his family's confidence in the company that ran his old apartment building has faded.

"Makes us, I guess, a little hesitant on what can Avalon can do when they're doing the clean up of the site," says Dao.

AvalonBay did e-mail residents this week to let them know that they have picked a salvage company to sort through the debris. Residents say they get an e-mailed update roughly once a week, but they claim little information is enclosed.

"We understand how important it is to residents to know whether they will be able to recover any of their possessions," said Kurt Conway, Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy for AvalonBay Communities.

"While we've been informed that it is likely that any salvaged possessions are likely to be limited, we are committed to moving forward with the process."

Conway also told PIX11 on Saturday that Avalon will be in touch with residents early next week with more details about scheduling and how to claim any found possessions.

Regarding the break-in and any missing belongings, Conway says that items were transferred securely by AvalonBay into an off-site storage facility. He deferred comment on details of the subsequent break-in to the off-site storage facility.

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