VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — With the sound of jets roaring again overhead Friday, professional movers began packing the belongings of residents whose homes were damaged when a Navy plane last week slammed into an apartment complex courtyard and caught several buildings on fire.
No one was killed and seven, including the two pilots, were injured in the April 6 crash. Fire officials have said that more than two dozen Mayfair Mews apartments were destroyed in the fire. Residents of five damaged apartments that are slated for demolition were able to start packing up furniture and other items with movers paid for by the Navy. Fire officials said residents of another 28 untouched units aren't being allowed to move back into their homes until utilities are restored, and it was unclear when that might happen. The Navy said they will be briefly allowed back in Monday to retrieve any items they may need to live and work in the short term.
The Navy planned to finish packing the belongings of residents in three or four other damaged units scheduled for demolition on Saturday.
The Navy said all aircraft components and debris had been removed from the scene of the F/A-18D Hornet crash, which has become a slight tourist attraction after drawing international attention.
John Garmon, his wife and two children rode bicycles from their oceanfront hotel to take in the scene on Friday as large moving trucks lined the apartment complex parking lot. Police tried to keep spectators out as cars passing by slowed down to check out the burned-out buildings.
"It's just incredible that nobody got killed," said Garmon, from Mentor, Ohio.
The Navy is moving salvageable belongings into storage units for 90 days or residents' new homes, if they have them already. The Navy is also providing free housing referral services to affected residents and has spent $149,000 paying for two weeks of hotel lodging, clothes and meal costs.
Louise Costenbader said her apartment was completely burned. She's been staying with her brother and has started looking for a new home. She doesn't believe she will be able to find a place for $750 a month as nice as the 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment with a balcony that she used to wave at Navy pilots from as they flew overhead.
"I'll never find that. Never, never. But, you have to pick up and go on," she said.
Some residents whose homes were destroyed planned on Saturday to see if firefighters could find any heirlooms or personal mementos that managed to survive the fire. Residents will also be allowed to view video of their charred homes if they would like.
With windows blown out and roofs removed, a closet full of clothes that appeared to be unscathed could still be seen hanging inside one apartment as emergency crews continued to clean up the site. It wasn't immediately clear whether that second-floor apartment was considered one at a total loss or not.
Costenbader stopped by the complex to make sure apartment workers had her brother's phone number in case they needed to reach her.
She said she had called in sick from her job at the Virginia Aquarium the day of the crash. By a twist of fate, she said she was dog sitting for a cousin of hers when the plane crashed, catching her second floor unit on fire.
"My family was frantic. My brothers and my various extended family over here, they were all sure I was dead," she said.
She said she has started looking for a new home, although it will have to be one that doesn't include her family furniture, her grandmother's dishware or her beloved paintings of her family that she had composed and she believes were all destroyed.
"It kind of broke my heart," she said as she remembered all that she had lost.
Still, she said there was some comfort in not having to worry about searching for any particular item.
"There's a certain relief in complete devastation," she said.
Online: Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis