‘Everything is an opportunity’: Couple finds hope after losing everything in West Ghent fire, says help always needed for neighbors


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Days after a fire destroyed a West Ghent apartment building, displaced residents continue to look through the ashes, but express optimism.

Erin McCarty remembers the life saving moments before flames destroyed her third story apartment on Greenway Court.

“I heard the sirens and I just remember thinking to myself God bless those people on the other side of that,” she said. “I know how that feels being in the ambulance going to someone’s emergency.”

She never thought the sirens would be coming to help her and her partner Andrew Minguez.

The couple grabbed what they could in the apartment they’ve lived in the last two years before escaping the smoke and flames.

Left behind was McCarty’s sewing machine and fabric. It was part of her newfound hobby to help make masks for first responders at the beginning of the pandemic.

She created a Facebook page called Better Than Your Bandana to create a community around the masks she’d make.

She continued working on her skills and making goods, until they went up in flames.

“The first thing to go was the living room and that’s where I sewed,” she said. “Everyday, everyday for the last two years. Every day.”

Her partner Minguez is a classically trained musician and performed in orchestras in New York before moving back to Norfolk. He teaches in Chesapeake and was able to save his viola during the fire.

Four other violins, all his sheet music and a handful of music stands were lost in the fire.

Still, the two remain resilient and optimistic.

“Nothing is stupid. Everything happens for a reason. Everything helps everything,” she said. “If it could’ve happened any other way, it would have. You know, these things teach us about our weaknesses and we grow from it.”

Even though the fire destroyed most of their belongings, and left the two homeless, they remain resilient and optimistic – saying everything is an opportunity.

“How do we use this as an opportunity to transmute this into something that’s really good,” said Minguez. “And not just good for us, but good for our neighbors and to remind people in our community of that as well.”

The couple set up a personal GoFundMe to raise money to rebuild their life from the ashes.

The West Ghent Civic League also set up a GoFundMe to help all residents impacted by the fire.

On Monday, Nov. 15, Public House in Norfolk said the business would donate all proceeds from the night of sales on Nov. 18 to the St. Andrew’s fund for the victims of the fire.

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