Organizations to help residents in aftermath of crash
Nonprofits seek to heal mental, financial wounds of those impacted by plane disaster
Local organizations are stepping forward to help East Palo Altans who are struggling after Wednesday's plane crash into a residential neighborhood.
The commute-hours crash, in which a Cessna 310R slammed into high-powered electrical lines along San Francisquito Creek and broke up over the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Beech Street, damaged four homes and several vehicles.
Three engineers from Tesla Motors, Inc. died in the crash but no residents were injured, according to fire and police authorities.
Some residents were left homeless and others were evacuated. At least two families lost their livelihood, family members said.
Shortly after the accident an American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter team opened a shelter at the East Palo Alto YMCA to prepare for a possible evacuation of the entire block, according to spokeswoman Melanie Finke.
By evening, an emergency vehicle was still available on Beech to assist residents in crisis and volunteers found housing for an evacuated family, she said.
Volunteer counselors also helped residents, many of whom felt a great deal of uncertainty after the crash, she said. Neighbors said an 80-year-old woman fainted after the fiery plane plummeted from the sky, thinking the end of the world had come.
And the owner of a day care facility whose adjacent home was destroyed was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment of high blood pressure.
Residents' nerves were again rattled at about 4 or 5 a.m. on Thursday, after one of the burned and damaged vehicles again caught fire, they said.
"Even if it doesn't affect them physically, it affects them mentally," resident Joy Wright said.
Witnesses to the crash, some of whom saw the fiery wreckage and bodies of the men who died, will not soon forget what they saw.
"There was fire everywhere," said Benita Brown, who was at home when she heard the first "boom" and ran to her window, only to see the plane explode. "The house shook. It felt like an earthquake."
Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable homes for needy families, arrived at the crash site around 1 p.m. Wednesday to check on several homes the group has built on Beech. The Greater San Francisco chapter built its first home on the street in 1989, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Doettling.
Doettling said one home previously built by Habitat was damaged. The organization had not yet reached the owner of that home to determine if it can help with any repairs, she said.
David Foley, director of 2nd Mile, a Menlo Park faith-based nonprofit that has renovated homes and schools in East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, such as Cesar Chavez Academy, Ronald McNair Academy, James Flood School and Willow Oaks Elementary School, arrived on Thursday morning to assess the damage to four homes. Foley could not gain entry to the secured area but said after police allow access he would return.
Two homes on Beech were renovated by the organization, including the YoungLife house and another home that houses struggling young women with children, he said.
Foley said he wanted to see about renovating the home of Lisa Jones, the preschool owner.
Fifty percent of the home was burned after the plane's wing crashed into it and exploded. The rest of the home was water- and smoke-damaged — a total loss, according to Menlo Park Fire District Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
"We were going to renovate Brentwood Elementary School as our April project but we heard about the loss of homes here and said, 'We have to switch,'" he said.
Foley said the group receives its funding from private donations, many of whom live "up on the hill." Engaging with the East Palo Alto community has opened many volunteers' and donors' eyes and hearts, he said.
One victim of the crash who walked away was feeding his baby when the plane careened into a retaining wall and crashed in front of his rental home, he said. Juan Carlos Ramirez said he ran into the backyard with his wife and child.
"I was scared. I thought the house blew up," he said. But Ramirez worried that he might face more than temporary evacuation from his rental home. Both of the family's trucks were burned in the crash, he said.
"My dad makes the rent payments. He picks up scrap metal to make the rent payments," he said.
On Wednesday he was searching for answers about who would pay to replace the trucks. The family could not afford insurance on the vehicles, he said.
As the afternoon wore on, he looked on helplessly as emergency crews and aviation officials investigated the scene.
"We're getting hungry. There's no place like home, you know."
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at email@example.com.