LOWELL -- Minh Ngo Van was searching for new clothes today, one day after a fire ripped through the Branch Street apartment building where he lived, a fire that claimed the lives of two roommates, all of his possessions -- and left him haunted and sleepless.
“I feel no good,’’ Van said in broken English when he stopped by an office the American Red Cross has set up to help survivors in Lowell. “I can’t sleep good. I keep thinking about it.’’
Van lived on the third floor of the apartment building with several roommates that included Tina Christakos and a man in his 70s whom Van called Bob, but whose identity has not been confirmed by relatives or officials.
Van said on Thursday while cooking himself noodles, he smelled smoke. He looked outside and saw flames flowing out of the building.
Van said he kicked the bedroom door of his roommates, including the one where Bob was sleeping and where Christakos was with her boyfriend, then he dressed hurriedly. While other residents of the apartment ran out the door, Van said Bob was skeptical about the need to flee and moved slowly.
Van said that Christakos never stepped out of the apartment, apparently intent on both helping Bob and rescuing two of her four Chihuahuas named Bear and Paula, Van said. Authorities said the bodies of two people believed to be Christakos and the man Van knew as Bob were recovered in the rubble Thursday.
As he sprinted out the door and into the hallway, Van grabbed another roommate, an older man, under his arm to help him escape. But then he saw an elderly woman, who has been ill, slowly moving toward the stairs -- and Van grabbed her, too.
Together, the three made it outside. Van said he was unable to return.
Van’s apartment was on the opposite side of the third floor where five members of the same family were killed. Van said that when he looked down the hallway toward the Sak apartment, flames filled the hallway and parts of the ceiling were already collapsing.
Van said he lost everything he owned -- clothes and cell phone -- and is living in a hotel provided by the Red Cross while he searches for a new place to live. He doens’t have relatives in the area he can stay with and is not certain where he will live.
The loss of his friends -- he said Bob liked to play pranks, like tossing cold water on him while he napped outside -- has left him shocked and still struggling to understand how the fire could do so much damage so quickly.
“It burned so quickly. I have never seen like that in my life,’’ Van said. “Five minutes -- the building go.’’