JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Wearing a hair cap and two jackets on her thin frame, Veranda Cole pointed out the apartment she lived in just yesterday.
“Where that big burnt metal piece is, that’s where mine was,” she said.
On Friday, a blaze swept through the building, destroying dozens of units and displacing families of all kinds.
“And that’s where it started,” Cole said, still pointing at the bent, burnt sheet metal that used to be the home she shared with her family.
After a cursory investigation, Jackson Fire Department ruled that the fire started with a space heater that was placed too close to the curtains. Cole says that she didn’t have a space heater. As it was, she rarely ever used the wall unit heater in her apartment. But Friday morning, she got up to turn it on so her children would be warm getting ready to go to school, then she went back to sleep.
“I woke up, and the curtain and my entire wall was on fire above the heater,” she said.
Panicked, she found her children in the thick black smoke, and once they were out, she went to warn the neighbors, banging on doors, getting them out of their beds, trying to get the word out. As people evacuated, the flames spread until the entire building was burning.
Jackson Fire Department officials say it was a total loss. Cole says those words don't start to cover it.
“I don’t have anything. Nothing," she said. "We have families, we need food, we need shelter, we need clothing.”
We tried to speak to hotel management, but there was nobody in the office. When the owner arrived, he said he was too upset to speak on camera.
“It’s a hotel, but this hotel is home to a lot of people," Cole said. "There are people who have been living over here 10 years or more.”
Veranda Cole, like the other residents of the Hilltop Inn, now has to figure out where to go from here, and how to take care of her children in the meantime.
“In a way I feel like I’m failing them. I don’t have what they need right now and I don’t know where to get it,” she said, tears flowing freely as she looked at the rubble that was once her home.
What was left of the building was knocked down with heavy equipment before the hot spots had even completely cooled. JFD officials said it was unsafe to leave it standing.
The Red Cross is referring people to their shelter, the Jackson Revival Center on Terry Road.