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Thirty people scramble to find homes

Officials say that safety concerns at Alpine Village apartments, such as which caused an October fire at this still-boarded apartment, led to the order to evacuate the apartment complex on Friday.
Officials say that safety concerns at Alpine Village apartments, such as which caused an October fire at this still-boarded apartment, led to the order to evacuate the apartment complex on Friday.

Citing safety and health violations, officials called Thursday for the immediate evacuation of the Alpine Village Apartments at Cabot, leaving about 30 residents scrambling to find new homes Friday. City officials said the decision to close the complex came after an inspection left them in serious concern for the residents’ safety.

The apartment complex is at 800 North Jackson at the junction with Polk Street.

Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson, on whose order as fire marshal the evacuation was made, said Monday that it was just a matter of time until electrical problems caused a serious fire. “One of the apartments already burned because of the same electrical problems we found in a lot of the others.” That apartment, which burned in October, remains boarded over with no apparent repairs, he said.

Knowing the problems that abounded in the buildings left no recourse, Robinson said. Knowing what the inspectors knew, for the sake of the residents’ safety the evacuation could not wait, he said.

Nearly all the residents who spoke Saturday said they had nowhere to go, one former resident had set up a tent in a commons area between the apartment buildings. “Someone has to watch out for our stuff. People was kicking in doors already last night,” said a resident, who identified himself only as Bobby, about why he remained in his tent.

Those who spoke Saturday faulted the city for not giving them time to find new homes. The order allows residents until Feb. 27 to return to the apartments, during daylight hours, to retrieve their belongings, then all the apartments are to be boarded over.

“Not so,” Mayor Bill Cypert said Monday of the claimed lack of notice to residents. “We warned the owner; it was up to him to warn the residents,” he said.

Cypert said his statement, issued Friday, explained the evacuation. “The City of Cabot Code Enforcement issued an evacuation order 02/20/2014 to the owner of the Alpine Apartment Complex in Cabot, Arkansas to evacuate the complex within seven calendar days, with no overnight occupation, and to be boarded up at the end of the seven calendar days.

“This action was necessary due to several complex residents’ complaints to Code Enforcement regarding living conditions. After investigation, Code Enforcement contacted the Cabot City Fire Marshal, who upon investigation and inspection ordered, under the Arkansas Fire Protection Code, immediate action as stated above.”

Patricia White said she was given less than seven hours to get out. “I found out when they nailed this up by my door,” she said, pointing to the evacuation order.

“I hustled up $275 to stay in a hotel this week. After that? I don’t know. I got $100 in my pocket and now I am missing work to clear out of here. I can’t afford to miss work. They don’t put prisoners out like this,” White said.

Cabot Public Works director Brian Buroughs said Monday that the initial code inspection was done Feb. 19 in response to complaints from three apartments of repairs not being made. Prior to the complaints, there was no out-of-ordinary attention given the complex, he said.

The owner was contacted and he agreed to an inspection of the apartments on Wednesday, Buroughs said. After a brief look, Robinson, as fire marshal, was contacted.

The list of problems included exposed bare wires, broken and burned electric outlets; improperly installed water heaters; evidence of overheated wires. “When we say ‘exposed bare wires,’ these are wires that are hot,” Buroughs said. Melted circuit breakers, melted wires, and “cross wired” circuit panels, were other immediate safety hazards, he said.

Melted circuit breakers were bypassed with wires to other circuit breakers, posing the threat of short circuits, Buroughs said.

“There were roaches everywhere. There were toilets that had no water, but they were being used anyway. Just use your imagination with that,” Buroughs said.

Warning was given after the inspection, which took from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., to clear some of the apartments, Buroughs said. “But at the out-briefing [conducted immediately after the inspections] it was decided to close the whole lot,” he said.

Robinson said he notified the owner Thursday morning of the order to evacuate. The authority to make such an order is given to fire marshals under the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code, which is state law, he said.

Former resident Donald McDaniel was puzzled about the evacuation. “These ain’t great [apartments], but they’re livable. They got new paint, the roof don’t leak. There’s been no problems before. Why now? I bet now the school gets the parking lot it wants,” he remarked

Residents who spoke said they knew of the inspections on Feb. 19. “They said they found only a few things wrong. Then they showed up yesterday morning and told us to get out. Just like that. No warning. They said us finding somewhere to go was our problem, we just had to get out,” McDaniel said.

“They said it was ‘life safety issues.’ What about our life safety at night with no place to go?” he asked.

Bobby said it was a “no-good thing to do, putting us out like that,” but he added that he had survived worse.

“I been burned bad,” he said, baring a scarred arm. “And back in those ice storms we had, I got through it with two sleeping bags and a lighter to keep warm. I got through all that because God took care of me before and he will again. But it was a no-good thing to do.”

Robinson and Buroughs each said the decision was not an easy one. “But we could not, not do something. We knew about [the problems]. What if we waited and someone died?” Robinson said.

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