Relief organized for EPA plane-crash neighborhood
Plane-crash emergency 'not over' for East Palo Alto residents, fire chief says
The small plane that crashed into an East Palo Alto neighborhood Feb. 17, killing all three aboard and causing a city-wide power outage in Palo Alto, also had a major impact on the East Palo Alto homes and residents directly affected by the collision.
At least five households on Beech Street and at least one on Cypress Street, had property damaged in the crash and its fallout, and residents were traumatized emotionally and financially.
A relief effort to help the families affected is underway by the East Palo Alto Police Department, Menlo Park Fire Protection District and the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship of Mountain View, along with volunteers from the East Palo Alto community and the Palo Alto Airport Association.
Impacts on other nearby homes includes fire and explosion damage to vehicles and structures, a collapsed carport and a need for temporary housing, rent assistance and insurance help. A daycare center also needs relocation.
The Ramirez family at 1173 Beech St. lost two trucks and had an SUV damaged by fire, leaving the family breadwinner unable to get to work. Juan Carlos Ramirez said on Thursday his father is still without a truck. His dad is self-employed and hauls scrap metal to pay the family's rent. The family is still struggling and has no money for necessities or monthly payments, Ramirez said.
"We can't work," he said.
Ramirez said he has also heard that someone is trying to donate a car for him to use.
The Palo Alto Airport Association is collecting donations toward purchasing a new truck for the Ramirez' hauling business.
Dave Hengehold of Hengehold Truck Rental in Palo Alto said he was aiding the association in finding an appropriate vehicle and would help with service and licensing costs.
"We're going to make sure it's serviceable so they can continue their hauling business," Hengehold said.
Lisa Jones, owner of Eppie's Daycare, lost her home and livelihood when a plane wing filled with fuel hit the home and burst into flames. The home was destroyed, leaving Jones and several family members homeless.
Neighbors say Jones, who purchased the home from Habitat for Humanity, is devastated. The family needs a three-bedroom rental home and all of the basic necessities: clothing, housewares and other items, according to Pinkie Hudleton, a direct neighbor whose carport was destroyed after part of the fuselage and landing gear plunged through the carport's roof, narrowly missing her home by a few feet.
"She's really shook up. She's really hurting. I'm able to live in my home. She was self-employed. She lost her home. She lost everything," Hudleton said of Jones.
Hudleton said she and her husband, Ervin, haven't received any help toward rebuilding their carport yet, although "somebody voiced they wanted to do it," she said.
Chief Harold Schapelhouman and his staff in the Menlo Park Fire Protection District took the initiative to organize a preliminary checklist of immediate needs.
"He has gone above and beyond his call of duty to attend to the needs of this community," Rosemarie Nola, director of the Strategic Partnerships & Homeless Ministries program at Abundant Life, said of Schapelhouman's efforts.
"The fire department took the lead" in the early phases of relief, Schapelhouman said. But it's more appropriate for the police department to take over coordination at this stage, he added.
He said police Community Service Officer Elizabeth Lam has been named the point person for conducting a survey of households affected and coordinating relief efforts.
"The baton has been passed" to the police department, but the fire district will continue to help if it can, he said.
David Foley, director of 2nd Mile, a faith-based nonprofit group that helps rebuild and renovate schools and homes in East Palo Alto, said he just received a priorities checklist put together by East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis.
Foley said he can't yet discuss ways his organization and others might help to rebuild the damaged homes, but discussions are taking place.
Nola said Abundant Life Christian Fellowship has members willing to donate money, furniture and even counseling services. But being able to connect the resources to those in need depends on the police department and others getting organized more effectively.
"We need to all get on the same page. That's my prayer," she said. "There is no shortage of needs." Her church members are ready and willing to help, she said.
"It's just having a way to publish the needs to them and not duplicate efforts," that is still being coordinated, she said.
Schapelhouman said he expects the relief effort to take some time.
"It's a different day but the emergency isn't necessarily over," he said. "Everyone is trying to do what they can but there is a lot that's got to be addressed."
"The good news is there are a number of agencies and individuals who want to help and are stepping up."
Citing not only monetary and material needs, he said the event was emotionally traumatic for the whole community and healing will be ongoing.
"The call isn't over," he said.
Hudleton agreed: "Some people are very shook up, in my opinion. We can't believe it's happened. Every time we hear those planes flying from the airport we remember the whole thing over again."
Outsiders only hear about East Palo Alto's reputation as a tough town, but few realize that when times are tough its residents "have hearts of gold," she said. Many have feelings that are sympathetic to the victims and those who died in the plane, she said.
Neighbors have circulated an e-mail to help each other and are talking about getting money together to purchase a gift certificate for Jones, she said.
"Everyone is really concerned," she said.
Those interested in offering assistance are asked to contact the East Palo Alto Police Department.
Editorial Assistant Karla Kane can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.