Heartache for fire-affected residents

By Rhonda Dredge

There were poignant family scenes at the fire-damaged Neo200 building on February 15 as residents arrived with suitcases hoping to get into their apartments, only to be turned back by security guards.

Work was still underway to make the tower safe, guards said, but some residents had been informed they could return. 

To make matters worse for many, the 10-day lock-out occurred during Chinese New Year.

Some of the 1000 residents of the 40-storey apartment block on Spencer St had relatives staying for the celebrations and they had to find alternative accommodation for them as well.

One woman spent a stressful 10 days in a small hotel room with her daughter and parents. Another moved six times with his elderly mother and father. A third had her sister staying and her passport was still locked up on the 33rd floor.

There was no-one from the council at the building on Friday to assist residents with their problems, leaving security guards to bear the brunt of the frustration. 

“You need to call this number,” one guard advised the desperate resident whose sister was leaving the country the following day. He said that only the town hall could authorise access.

The woman had two small children in tow as she rang the number repeatedly. “No-one rings back,” she said. She paced up and down the front of the building until she was told to return at 5.30 so she could be let in.

“It’s too bad,” said Lifeng Wang, who was at the building with his father. “We went to a meeting this Tuesday. A guy said on Thursday we could move back. I’ve just checked out (of our hotel) and we can’t go back.”

“Now it’s peak time. I’ve been living in hotels and Airbnb. We’ve checked in and out six times. Four days cost $1200. I haven’t received any money.”

Mr Wang, who works in the CBD, said he “feels pretty sad.” His parents came for a visit for Chinese New Year. “It wasn’t fun. We’re homeless. I’ve got two pieces of luggage and my parents.” 

The owners’ corporation has promised each apartment will receive $2500 compensation to cover the cost of accommodation, but residents have to provide receipts. 

“I was at the meeting when they discussed the body corporate policy,” said a lawyer, who did not want to be named. “This is regardless of how long we’re out. Some people could be desperate.”

He said he would be returning to live in his apartment and that the fire was not putting him off. 

“I was really casual. I left half an hour after the alarm. I couldn’t smell any smoke,” he said.

The City of Melbourne website said residents would be able to return to the building in stages. The Friday return was to be confirmed. On Thursday this had not occurred. The return was delayed but this information was not available. Some fire-damaged floors are expected to take six months to repair.

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