12 people displaced after fatal weekend fire in Sydney duplex
International students stunned by deadly turn of events, seek new place to live
Seven international students and an extended family of five have no place to live after a house fire in Sydney, N.S., over the weekend damaged their duplex and killed one man.
Officials from Cape Breton University confirmed in an emailed statement Tuesday that the victim was a student, but declined to give other details out of respect for the student's family.
"Regretfully, Cape Breton University can confirm the passing of one of our students in a recent fire… As we grieve together, there are a variety of services that have been made available to students, faculty and staff, including grief counselling. We are also supporting students who are currently displaced by the fire."
Officials have not yet confirmed the victim's identity. The cause of death is also under investigation.
However, the president of Cape Breton University Students' Union, Damanpreet Singh, told CBC the student was from southern India and was a graduate student in business analytics. Singh said the victim was a well-liked man who arrived in Sydney in September 2021.
One of the displaced roommates, 30-year-old Siddharth Balachandar, said the victim was like a big brother and mentor to his housemates.
"[He] was a very good man. He knows everyone in our house ... he's like big brother material," Balachandar said. "I didn't want him to be going away like this … I didn't want to face this."
Balachandar, who is also from India, said Saturday began as a regular day when he had coffee and conversation with his roommate, who he said was 33. But when Balachandar was at the gym that afternoon, he received a call from another friend telling him that his roommate had died in a fire at their home.
"And then my friend dropped me [off at] my house, and outside my house obviously there were more police and fire department … and I could actually see the smoke around the house, the black marks and all," he said.
The Red Cross is helping everyone forced out of the duplex at 222 and 224 Park Street.
"The Canadian Red Cross assisted seven people from the most heavily damaged unit and where tragically the fatality occurred, but also five people from an extended family who lived in the other half of the duplex and who also had to leave the premises," said Dan Bedell, the Communications Director for the Atlantic Region Canadian Red Cross.
"Our understanding is that these displaced tenants are mostly or all students at Cape Breton University and CBU is working on plans for the period after Red Cross help ends," Bedell said.
All 12 people were staying at hotels in Sydney until Tuesday, but Bedell says they are looking for other accommodations, perhaps through insurance, or whatever CBU can provide for the students.
Balachandar said Monday that no one could yet enter the house to retrieve clothing or belongings because the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Balachandar said he is concerned for others' safety and urges the fire departments and home owners to conduct regular safety checks to ensure smoke alarms are working.
"Primarily, I think everyone should have their safety and security … that is the only thing I'm asking for. And yeah, I want the fire department to do the work, because it was us this Saturday [but] it might be your family next Saturday. I don't want that at all…. Imagine you guys in my place," he said.