116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Ethel Brown woke to the sound of fire alarms early Sunday. She thought it was a false alarm because Geneva Tower has had those before.
But when first responders came pounding on her door, she knew she had to evacuate.
Brown is one of 160 residents evacuated from the 12-story apartment building, 310 Fifth Ave. SE, after a fire was reported shortly after midnight Saturday on the ninth floor.
Cedar Rapids fire officials have not yet released the cause of the fire.
The residents — many of them older and disabled — are sheltering at Veterans Memorial Building or with family and friends and eager to return to their homes, according to Debbie Craig with the Affordable Housing Network, which owns Geneva Tower.
The bottom seven floors of the building did not sustain much damage, and the Affordable Housing Network is working with the city to determine when residents can start moving back. Craig said she hopes that could happen, in phases, later this week.
“They love being downtown, and they can’t wait to get back home,” she said.
The building has 60 one-bedroom apartments and 132 efficiency units.
Some of the apartments, mostly on the ninth and tenth floors, will be uninhabitable for a while, Craig said, adding she is working with Waypoint to find housing for those residents.
She said Geneva Tower has some vacant apartments on the lower floors, which will help, and the Affordable Housing Network has other units available.
No deaths were reported in the fire, but one resident was being treated for smoke inhalation and possible heat-related injuries, and a number of others were taken to hospitals for smoke exposure and other medical issues.
Veritas Church, which is across the street from Geneva Tower, became a temporary Red Cross shelter immediately after the fire.
Fifty-two residents were moved to a more permanent shelter Sunday evening at the Veterans Memorial Building, with others joining them later, said Pami Erickson, executive director of the Eastern Iowa Red Cross Chapter. Other residents are staying with family or friends, she added.
Geneva Tower employees were contacting tenants individually Monday to give updates and make sure they all have somewhere to stay, Craig said.
Geneva Tower apartments are rented to mostly low-income seniors and adults with disabilities, so many of the residents have specific medical needs.
Erickson said Red Cross emergency responders are working with public health case workers to replace medications or medical supplies lost in the fire, including items like prescription glasses.
“At this time … all their immediate needs are going to be taken care of. I think it’s going very smooth,” Erickson said.
Brown, who uses a walker, said a first responder helped her down the fire escape from her sixth-floor apartment.
“I was just thankful that everybody got out safe,” she said. “If we don’t get back home tomorrow, just keep us in your prayers.”
Tom Brown, another resident staying at the shelter, said he left the building with nothing but a jacket, pants and shoes. The Red Cross has provided him with clothing and other necessities.
Even though his apartment is on the first floor, removed from the fire, the experience scared him, he said.
“I’m under a lot of anxiety right now,” he said.
He also has a cat that is at the humane society being treated for smoke inhalation.
Many of the Geneva Tower residents have service animals.
Patti Dunleavy was at the shelter Monday with her 15-year-old service dog, Sophie. Dunleavy is having a hard time living in the open shelter since she’s used to an apartment.
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