Fire-hit families welcome gov’t promise to rebuild – but say nothing can bring back beloved teen Dequan

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Precious little remains of the house Lisa Cummins had occupied for decades (Photo by Gemma Handy)
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By Gemma Handy

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A lone piece of Christmas tinsel still adorns one scorched pillar of Lisa Cummins’ fire-ravaged Nut Grove home, eight days after a devastating blaze reduced it and two neighbouring properties to an expanse of rubble.

The festive garnish is a poignant reminder of the Yuletide redecoration the 45-year-old had undertaken just weeks earlier.

Today, all else that remains of the house Cummins had lived in since she was a child are parts of the perimeter fence, three steps and a pile of charred appliances.

Precious little remains of the house Lisa Cummins had occupied for decades (Photo by Gemma Handy)

The inferno which broke out in the early hours of January 10 is also suspected to have claimed the life of Cummins’ 16-year-old nephew Dequan.

Yesterday, the family told Observer they were grateful for the government’s offer of help rebuilding their homes. Cabinet announced on Thursday that assistance would be forthcoming via the Home Advancement Programme for the Indigent, dubbed HAPI.

However nothing, they said, will bring back Dequan whose father Michael Cummins is still awaiting the results of DNA testing to confirm the identity of badly burnt human remains discovered among the rubble. The Jennings Secondary School pupil has not been seen since the disaster.

Michael, who shared a property adjacent to his sister’s with Dequan, told Observer he hoped the government stuck to its word, but added, “Me son is the most important thing. For now me just have fuh wait to see; me nah see me youth man up to now.”

He said he still retained some hope the body was not that of his child. And he sent heartfelt thanks to the community for their support as he undergoes the agonising wait for the DNA results.

Michael added that efforts were continuing to contact the boy’s mother who left for Guyana 14 years ago.

Dequan Cummins has not been seen since the blaze (Photo courtesy Keane Gregoire)

Meanwhile, Lisa Cummins told Observer of the terrifying moment she realised her home was on fire on that fateful Monday morning.

“My neighbour heard me screaming and kick off the fence by the side of the house and come and assist me with a little hose to try to wet down my house. But the blaze was so high that he couldn’t do no more,” she explained.

“He told me to take what I could and get out. I was so stunned and they were shouting ‘Lisa, get out’, the only thing I could think to take was likkle bit of clothing, a basket and two pillows.”

In addition to losing most of her worldly possessions, Cummins’ pet dog Butch also perished in the blaze.

Even her spectacles were lost to the flames, she said, squinting to look at the pup’s picture on her cell phone.

In a voice wracked with emotion, Cummins, a school janitor, spoke of her gratitude at the government’s promise of help.

“I’m homeless and if the government of Antigua and Barbuda goin’ to do something to help the family – at this time and with Covid – from the bottom of my heart I will most appreciate that,” she said.

“I worked hard to try fix up the little house that I have. And for the new year, this is what I receive.”

Cummins also expressed deep sympathy for her brother adding, “You can’t replace a life. My nephew life gone forever.”

Fire Chief Elvis Weaver confirmed the cause of the blaze remains underway.

MP for the area Daryll Matthew told Observer the government recognised the distress experienced by the affected families and that he was “happy to have played a major part in the decision to lend support”.

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