Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Fire damages Vietnamese church in St. Pete, forces polling site relocation

ST. PETERSBURG —The Vietnamese Alliance Church was preparing to celebrate its 30th anniversary next month before a fire swept through the building early Sunday morning.

"It's hard. It's a place that … we spent a lot of time to renovate just slowly over time to bring it to this condition," said church treasurer Tom Ho. "Even though we know it's hard at the moment, we know that God has a plan for us."

Firefighters doused the blaze, which began about 1:30 a.m., and no one was injured. Fire Rescue teams remained at the site, 4344 21st Street N, through the morning to investigate the cause. Ho said initial reports showed that the sanctuary may be salvageable.

In the meantime, he said the church is still waiting to hear from several local church leaders about whether they can use their buildings on a temporary basis.

The devastation hit neighbors hard. The church has been part of the community for decades. Ho said people drove by throughout the day to see the damage. Some got out of their cars to take photos.

The church canceled its Sunday morning services. Andy Bui, 38, who has been a member for 13 years, said it was the first time in his life that he missed a Sunday service. Bui is part of the church band, whose instruments were soaked as firefighters battled the blaze, and said band members had been preparing for months to play at the anniversary event. Now, they're not sure when or if they'll be able to reschedule.

New Tampa resident An Wetter, 31, said she and six other women were supposed to have their baby showers in the church Sunday afternoon after the service.

"It's a really close-knit community," Wetter said. "But it's (the damage) not too bad. As long as the everyone is okay."

Youth leader Amy Tran, 26, came with other young church members to survey the damage on Sunday afternoon. Tran led a vacation Bible school last week in the building, and the children had created a video montage.

"We didn't really expect that to be the last video we had of the church," Tran said. "It's heartbreaking. It's like our second home. It's our home, actually."

Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

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