On Saturday, January 28, 2023, the Red Cross responded to a multi-family fire at the New World Condominiums in Miami Gardens. It was estimated that over 75 apartment units were affected, and approximately 200 individuals were displaced. Later that Saturday afternoon, the Red Cross opened a shelter at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex, just five miles from the incident, and has been caring for the affected residents. Since the shelter was opened, the Red Cross and partners have provided 1,308 overnight stays for more than 87 residents. Overnight numbers fluctuate as residents who stayed with family and friends immediately following the fire have turned to the Red Cross shelter for a safe place to stay. Additionally, 80 Red Crossers have assisted with the relief operations, and 17,121 meals and snacks have been provided.
At the shelter, residents are receiving warm meals, health, and mental health services, and 77 cases have been opened, serving 186 people with recovery support, including financial assistance, replacement of eyeglasses, and other medical needs like prescriptions.
The individuals affected range in age and ethnicity, from three-year-old Zayden, who keeps his was Mickey Mouse stuffed animal close by, to Ruth, who celebrated her 81st birthday at the shelter on February 2.
Here are the stories of the individuals the Red Cross is helping.
Zorodzai Rukwasi, Wesnerson Augustin and Zayden Augustin
Zorodzai met her husband Wesnerson when they both worked on cruise ships. They fell in love and married in South Africa, and baby Augustin was born in 2019. Zorodzai, a hairstylist from Zimbabwe, has lived at the New World Condos with her family for the last four years. Zayden was in daycare while his parents were at work when the fire broke out at their apartment complex on Saturday, January 28. Wesnerson, who is from Haiti, learned about the fire from friends and arrived at the scene to see it for himself; Zorodzai arrived shortly after. They were in shock as they watched the place they called home up in flames. After the fire was put out, Wesnerson could bypass firefighters entering their apartment to collect some essentials but told us that almost everything they owned was soaked from the water used to douse the flames. Later that evening, the family arrived at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex and stayed in the Red Cross shelter as they sorted out their next steps. “We have our life, and that is the most important thing,” Zorodzai shared.
Both parents continue to work, and Zayden goes to daycare to avoid disrupting his schedule. When he is back at the shelter, Zayden, a very social two-year-old keeps his parents on their toes as he is quick to take off in a sprint through any open door. One night after dinner, Zayden and his father were playing before bedtime while mom looked on. When I stopped to chat with the family, Zorodzai told me that “dinner was so good tonight.” She talks to me about her time on the cruise ships as a masseuse, and before I leave them, Zorodzai tells me, “We are grateful for everything you are doing for us. You treat us like family here.”
Ruth Hernandez celebrated her 81st birthday at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex on Thursday, February 2. Red Cross shelter volunteers arranged a small celebration with two kinds of cake, including Ruth’s favorite ice-cream cake. After dinner, her neighbors sang “Happy Birthday,” and the cakes were cut.
Ruth has lived at New World Condos for over 20 years and has two chihuahuas, four-year-old Lucky and ten-year-old Pollito. She grew up with chihuahuas and recalled how Lucky chose her. Upon arriving to choose a new dog, Lucky, one of three dogs available, ran up to her and stood on his two back feet, asking to be held while the other two dogs ignored her. She knew right then Lucky was the one for her. She tells us that Lucky and Pollito love to cuddle and sleep next to her at night.
Ruth arrived with her nephew at the shelter on Saturday, January 28. Four months ago, she fell in her home and broke her jaw, but she tells us she is healing nicely. Her nephew has been staying at the shelter to help care for Ruth. Her daughter, also named Ruth, arrived from New York a week after the fire and has been staying in the shelter as they plan for Ruth’s future. Whether Ruth heads to New York to live with her daughter is uncertain but she continues the search for a new home suitable for her, Lucky, and Pollito in sunny South Florida.
The Red Cross continues to care for residents affected by the fire at New World Condos. As of Thursday, February 16, there were 52 individuals staying overnight at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex.
Written by Stephanie Wesseling, American Red Cross Public Affairs