Work continues to help students displaced by fire at The Lofts

Officials have been busy this week dealing with the aftermath of a fire at The Lofts of Morgantown.

Meanwhile, one resident was told the damage was too bad to let anyone move back in.

It’s believed a lightning strike started the blaze March 15 that destroyed 18 units and displaced more than 50 people, mostly students.

Administrators at West Virginia University have been working to help displaced students, and the Red Cross has stepped in to also offer assistance.

WVU Assistant Dean and Executive Director of Campus and Community Life Carrie Showalter said the Lofts’ property manager has not provided the numbers or names of the students affected, making it difficult to direct relief efforts.

“I do believe they have put them up in other locations. I’ve been told this is the same entity that owns the domain,” Showalter said. “So it’s my understanding they have provided housing, whether it’s temporary or more permanent.”

Jason Keeling, executive director of the American Red Cross Central Appalachian Region, said all of those impacted have current lodging and the majority have been relocated to long-term housing.

Kali Shanabarger, one of the residents of the now destroyed building 500, said many of the residents have been able to relocate to The Domain, but she and her boyfriend are currently being housed at the Holiday Inn until they can move to The Domain on Friday.

Shanabarger said the Red Cross has reached out to residents individually and provided some money to buy whatever necessities they needed, “which really helped because we had nothing.”

Showalter said they are working with students who have come forward and are prepared to help others as needed. As the students come forward, each situation is evaluated, and action is taken as quickly as possible.

“We’re trying to get a handle on each individual situation,” Showalter said. “We have had some people that have self-reported, and we’ve had some people that have come to us through their professors; they’ve reached out to their professors, saying they were affected, and they have reached out to us.”

Showalter said there are options for students who have suffered the loss of textbooks and technology needed for classes. Other losses can be addressed through a variety of resources, including local nonprofits.

“We do have access to some emergency funds through our office that we can provide students with to replace books they need or other items that are not covered,” Showalter said.

Shanabarger, who is not a student, said she felt for the students in the building who are trying to finish the spring semester.

“They sent out an e-mail yesterday that WVU is offering assistance,” she said. “I know some people lost their laptops and textbooks, so they are lending out those resources to students affected.”

Keeling said the Red Cross refers clients to partners such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries for replacement of household items, but financial contributions can be accepted through the American Red Cross.

“Members of the public interested in contributing to this effort are encouraged to do so financially, which allows clients to determine their own best use of funds,” Keeling said.

WVU Student Legal Services also has resources to help students understand what is available to them and any legal recourse they could have. Some of these consultations can help students quickly access aid sources they may not have known about.

“The student attorney can work with them in reviewing the lease, whether they have renter’s insurance or if they’re covered under their parents’ homeowner’s insurance,” Showalter said. “And we can also certainly work with the financial aid office.”

Showalter said they keep track of companies that rent to students and have that information available as students are making the decision on where to live.

“Getting the word out and trying to steer people in the direction of landlords that are compassionate about and concerned about students as individuals and not just the number of tenants,” Showalter said.

“I can’t express the gratitude I have for the girls at the office of The Lofts – they have been nothing but wonderful. They’ve been great. It’s been a really confusing, frustrating time and they’ve been wonderful,” Shanabarger said.

Shanabarger said they will be allowed into the building this weekend to move any salvageable items to their new apartment. She was told the damage to the structure was severe and no one would be able to move back into the building.