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Residents Lose Everything After Fire Rips Through Union City Building

Union City Fire

A fire ripped through a building in Union City, N.J., Monday. (Credit: CBS 2)

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UNION CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Twenty-four apartments, a grocery store and a barbershop were destroyed Monday afternoon, when a 3-alarm fire ripped through a building in Union City, N.J.

As 1010 WINS Sonia Rincon reported, the fire broke out around 3:15 p.m. Monday in the four-story building at 411 Bergenline Ave., at 5th Street. The blaze burned for hours.

1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reports

While everyone got out of the building safely, the fire forced dozens of people on the street.

One man, Alexander Cruz, escaped with his wife, 4-year-old daughter, and 2-week-old son as smoke swept through the hallway. He said his family lost everything.

“We lost everything, everything,” Cruz told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider. “The TV, the sofa, clothes – we don’t have nothing right now. It’s not easy, you know, when you work for two years.” He began to cry.

As he sat in the gymnasium of a school that has been set up as a shelter, Cruz was distraught and fearful for his family. He recalled escaping the fire on Monday afternoon.

“Somebody called me, ‘Alexander, please, get out! The building is coming down!’” he said.

The fire was so fierce that it took multiple fire departments and several hours just to put out the flames.

Betsie Tosado’s husband ran door to door to get people out.

“It happened fast,” Tosado said. “My husband said that he heard the window explode, and then he looked up and saw the flames come out, so he went in the building and started knocking on everyone’s doors. Thank God children weren’t there. They were in school at the time.”

On Monday night, Tosado sat with the dozens of others, waiting to find out where the American Red Cross will put them for the night.

Union City Mayor Brian Stack said not much will be salvageable for about 100 people who lost their homes. Heavy smoke and thousands of gallons of water have likely destroyed all of the apartments.

“These are very, very poor families, and anytime, it’s tough when you have a fire, but especially this time of year, right now, with the holidays,” he said. “A lot of children live in the building.”

But Stack expressed hope that the building could be salvaged.

“We’ll probably set up a temporary shelter for them there tonight. We want to get them placed and we want to hopefully — depending on if the building is structurally sound after the fire, because it’s a brick building — we will help them relocate back here, or keep them in Union City.”

Stack said he plans to hold a fundraiser for the families displaced from the building in the next few days.

But families in the building were still devastated, particularly given the approach of the holidays.

“In 30 minutes, one hour, you’ve lost everything,” Cruz said. “Look at this now – this is Christmas!”

Fire officials said the blaze apparently started on the fourth floor. CBS 2’s Reggie Harrison, reporting from Chopper 2-HD, said it appeared as though the rooftop of the building had collapsed.

Earlier flames and thick, black smoke were seen pouring out of the building as firefighters entered the building, but they were later forced out due to the fire’s intensity.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday evening.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)