Rosa Hightower sifted though the soot-stained and waterlogged remains of her apartment Wednesday, looking to salvage what she could from a devastating apartment fire.
"This is all we’ve been doing," she said. "Taking it all out little by little and wiping it down, and seeing if we can use it."
For Hightower, the 44-year-old mother of twins, it has seemingly been one crisis after another.
She moved to Gainesville from Ohio in 2001 in a job transfer that brought her closer to her two older children in Alabama. Shortly afterward she was diagnosed with colon cancer, she said. Her son Michael, now 11, helped care for his mother and twin sister, Jasmine.
"He was the one who kept everything together," she said.Hightower said she was living on a disability pension but was cancer-free after chemotherapy treatment and two surgeries when her three-bedroom apartment off Dawsonville Highway caught fire Feb. 18, apparently sparked by a faulty surge protector. What belongings the flames didn’t wipe out, the heavy smoke and water used by firefighters severely damaged. She had no renter’s insurance.
"I survived cancer, now this," Hightower said Wednesday. "You start to ask, ‘as much as I’ve been through, why me?’"
Many have stepped up with assistance in the weeks since Hightower and her children were displaced. The Northeast Georgia Chapter of the American Red Cross put her in a motel temporarily, as the agency does with many fire victims. Several area churches chipped in with donations. Individuals, businesses and charitable organizations all contributed with furnishings, clothing and money.
"I thank everybody that’s helped me out," said Hightower, who moved into another unit at the Lake Forest Apartments on Otila Drive about a week after the fire.
Hightower has no close relatives and few friends living in the area. She credits her friend Myra Griffin with rallying folks to her aid.
"She did all the calls, did all the running around for me," Hightower said.
Said Griffin, "Why would I not? She’s a friend, and that’s what friends do."
Hightower still needs bed linens, kitchen items and replacements for the electronics, games and movies her children lost in the fire.
"Just making sure the kids have a stable life, that’s all I want," she said.
Hightower could also use some help cleaning out her burned-out apartment, which remains cluttered with blackened furnishings, ruined clothes and children’s belongings.
Hightower says she handles the stress by "taking it day by day."
"I put my faith in God," she said. "I’ve just tried to keep my strength up and my faith up."
To help, call Myra Griffin at 770-535-7812 or Rosa Hightower at 770-572-1196.