Local News

Spanish Translators Meet Critical Need After Fire

Posted August 21, 2007 12:02 a.m. EDT

— Volunteer, Red Cross and city Spanish translators provided critical help after a fire burned through two apartment buildings in north Raleigh early Monday morning.

The majority of the approximately 22 families made homeless by the fire are Spanish-speaking, Red Cross volunteer Alan McKinney said.

Communication is just as necessary as food and shelter in dangerous situations such as fires or when people have lost their homes and belongings, Red Cross officials said.

"One of the greatest needs of any disaster victim is the need for information. They need that just as much as they need food, clothing and shelter," Rosco Rouse, with the Red Cross, said.

The Red Cross initially sent two volunteer translators to the scene of the fire at Brentwood East Apartments, at 3819 Bonneville Court near New Hope Church Road. El Pueblo, a Hispanic advocacy group, also sent staffers to help translators with the Raleigh police and fire departments.

Outside volunteers showed up to assist with translation efforts at a Red Cross shelter, set up at New Hope Baptist Church on Louisburg Road, Monday night.

Social worker Janie Shivar said the Red Cross put her to work translating when she came to the shelter after getting off her job.

"I read it on the WRAL Web site that there was a need for translators, that there had apparently been very few available on the scene this morning when the fire actually occurred," Shivar said.

Nearly 50 people were staying at the shelter Monday night, seeking food, clothing, shelter and help figuring out what to do next.

While it helps with their immediate physical needs tonight, the Red Cross said it plans to help the fire victims transition into a more permanent living situation for tomorrow night. The charity has already identified some possible apartments for the victims.

"It takes even more time to get information communicated to folks when there's the big language barrier," Shivar said.

Survivors of the fire said they are grateful for the volunteer translators who are making that effort.

"We've gotten excellent help, in particular from the Red Cross and others who have come to help us interpret for our needs," said Pablo Romero, who brought his family to the shelter.

A three-alarm fire ripped through two buildings of Brentwood apartments around 4 a.m. At least 14 of the 22 units involved sustained damage from fire, water or smoke, authorities said.

The fire started on a balcony of one of the apartments, although investigators hadn't determined the cause as of Monday night, fire officials said.

Two people were still being treated for non-life-threatening injuries at local hospitals Monday night.

Despite their loss, Romero said he's thankful that his family is unharmed and is receiving assistance.

"I have a lot of hope, and I'm very grateful to God that we came out of this situation safe," Romero said.