SOUTH HOUSTON, Texas – Around 30 families are without a home Tuesday morning after an overnight fire destroyed an apartment complex in the city of South Houston.
It's the second time in months some of these families are suffering. Neighbors say Harvey flooded many of these ground-floor apartment units.
And now four months to the day after that life-changing storm, those families are starting over again.
The morning after Christmas, more than two dozen families stood in the cold along Allen-Genoa Road and Avenue H, staring at what used to be their home wearing only the clothes they escaped in.
“It is sad you know, day after the holidays,” said resident Silvano Echavarria, whose unit was destroyed. “It just went so fast, man. In minutes, everything's lost.”
“I was fixing to go to sleep in everything, then out of nowhere, just this. It just happened,” he said.
Echavarria said just after midnight he smelled smoke, went outside, saw flames in the breezeway and went upstairs to warn his parents.
“I told 'em, 'Hey man you gotta get out.' My mom was looking for her cat. 'Nah man we gotta get out cause the fire's spreading through the roof,'” he explained. “I went downstairs and my mom, she had already knocked, people were already outside.”
Echavarris says his mother began knocking on doors to alert neighbors. By the time firefighters showed up, flames spread throughout the common attic.
The Harris County Fire Marshall's office says the fire started in the attic space above unit 16. They believe it was likely an electrical issue that started the fire and say the place where the fire began could not be accessed by people.
“You can try to get ahead of it and cut it off, but you just gotta try to be quick at it, and it was traveling,” Capt. Joel Ferguson, South Houston Volunteer Fire Department, said.
“I heard someone in Spanish scream outside the apartments are on fire,” said resident Christian Castro. "Sure enough, I look out the window and everything was covered in smoke.you couldn't even see past the window.”
Castro says he woke up his mother and they went door-to-door throughout the complex waking up their neighbors.
Families lost nearly everything they owned and the children lost their newly opened Christmas gifts.
“Our Christmas tree. I thought that this Christmas would be so cool, but I didn't know this would happen,” said Hector Tolentino.
All 25 units in the complex burned. None of the residents were injured, but two firefighters sustained minor injuries. They were released from the hospital shortly after admission and are doing well.
Still, neighbors say the timing makes the destruction especially difficult to handle.
“To see them lose everything again, it's like 'wow, they're just overcoming Harvey', and they just had Christmas,” Tosha Byam, a neighbor, said.
So Emma Ishmal is offering free Uber rides to her neighbors in need, just like she did after Harvey.
“It's my neighborhood, and it doesn't even matter if it's here or anywhere else, I'm gonna help,” Ishmal said.
She's helping a neighborhood determined to bounce back again from another hardship at the worst possible time.
An emergency Red Cross shelter has been established to house the victims at Golden Acres Baptist Church in Pasadena.