Flushing inferno destroys shops

Chisei Han holds his daughter's dog, Mu Qi, outside his home and business that were engulfed in a Flushing blaze. Photo by Joe Anuta
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A three-alarm fire gutted a Flushing Laundromat early Monday morning, severely damaging a cluster of apartments above the store and injuring more than a dozen of the city’s Bravest as well as two tenants.

The blaze was believed to have started somewhere in the 45th Avenue Laundromat, at the corner of 45th Avenue and 143rd Street, before 3 a.m., when the FDNY received a call alerting them to the fire, according to Battalion Chief Kevin Duffy, of Battalion 52, who said the cause was still under investigation.

The dozen or so tenants who live in the six apartments in the 3 12/2-story building had to scramble down fire escapes or crawl out windows onto neighboring rooftops to flee the flames. Firefighters from 25 trucks battled the blaze for three hours before it was extinguished, and more than 12 were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries along with two residents of the building, according to Duffy.

The building’s owner, Chisei Han, said he usually sleeps above the Laundromat where he works, but happened to be house-sitting his daughter’s Flushing apartment that night.

“My life is suddenly upside down,” said Han, who was planning on retiring in two years. “Everything can be turned around overnight.”

Han is a Taiwanese immigrant who came to the country penniless more than three decades ago and saved enough money to open a restaurant upstate and then buy the Laundromat and apartments in the 1990s, he said. He managed to send his two daughters to college as well, although they are not finished and he is not sure how he will pay for the remainder of their schooling.

“Right before my perfect ending,” he said, watching as firefighters tossed charred hunks of the building out broken windows.

The fire mostly damaged the outside of the building, with the apartments sustaining smoke and heavy water damage, according to Han and Duffy, but Jasvinder Marwaha was not as lucky.

He has owned a small grocery store next to the Laundromat for five years before it was destroyed in the blaze. On Monday he stood with his family watching the city’s Bravest clean up rubble near its blackened windows. There was one small piece of good news. In the aftermath of the inferno, no one could locate a 1 1/2-year-old Maltese dog belonging to Han’s daughter.

“We thought it was dead,” said one emergency worker.

But Han went back into his apartment calling the dog’s name, Mu Qi, and eventually saw a furry head, now off-white in color, peek out from behind the oven.

Updated 10:32 pm, August 22, 2012
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