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Federal aid tight, senators tell Lynn

A National Guardsman guards the rubble left by the Lynn fire.
A National Guardsman guards the rubble left by the Lynn fire. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)

As wrecking balls leveled stray walls nearby, two US senators and a US representative toured the still smoldering ruins in the heart of Lynn's shoe district yesterday and vowed to press a request for federal aid that they said could face a cold reception in Washington.

"It going to be harder than it would have been," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said when asked about seeking help under President Ronald Reagan's economic program. "And none of us has a magic wand."

Sen. Paul E. Tsongas agreed that Reagan cutbacks would make federal help to rebuild Lynn more difficult to get, but said, "If this isn't a disaster, I don't know what is."

Kennedy and other political leaders praised Lynn's "never say die spirit" in the wake of Saturday's 15-hour fire storm. A federal disaster designation would make available low-interest loans to help Lynn rebuild from the blaze, which officials now say caused $70 million in losses.

"This is a comeback city, a fighting city," Kennedy said after he and Tsongas viewed the four-block area that had been the centerpiece of the historic shoemaking city's efforts to reverse years of decline.

Lynn officials are hoping to proceed with the five-year, $195-million redevelopment effort, despite the fact that much of the funding came from federal agencies being phased out by Reagan. Mayor Antonio Marino said that the development, once completed, had been expected to yield $3 million in tax revenues.

"They ought to walk David Stockman through here so he can find out what these programs really do," Tsongas said of Reagan's budget director.

In Boston last night, Gov. Edward J. King turned over to federal officials the state's formal request that Lynn be declared a federal disaster area. David Sparks, regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was scheduled to bring the application to Washington today.

King and other state officials are expected to go to Washington to press the request later this week "if they believe it will help our application for aid," a spokesman said last night.

Nearly 2000 jobs at 37 affected Lynn businesses were lost in the blaze, which broke out early Saturday morning in a vacant warehouse and spread to 25 other buildings, destroying 17 of them.

George A. Luciano, state secretary of public safety, said local and state officials, working with local businessmen, last night had a final breakdown of the $70 million in fire damages to support the disaster-aid request. In addition to the jobs lost, 500 apartments were destroyed, he said at a State House news conference.

In Lynn yesterday, the two senators and US Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D- Lynn) viewed the city's burned-out center along with more than a dozen state and local officials. They met with local businessmen at City Hall and said they would try to expedite Lynn's aid request.

"This was Lynn," Fire Chief Joseph Scanlon told the politicians as they trudged streets covered with mud, rubble and ice. The scorched frame of a window hung from a light pole as Scanlon pointed out the shoeheel-shaped Vamp building, once the world's largest shoe factory. Officials say the fire- damaged building, now a moderate-income housing project, can be saved.

Nearby, payloaders pushed brick into piles and four Lynn fire engines doused "hot spots" in the wreckage of 19th century mill buildings. Shafts of smoky sunlight poured through the fire-blackened factory frames that resembled charred clearstory walls.

Tsongas, saying the city had lost "a treasure in buildings it can never replace," compared the fire to a "miniature Mt. St. Helens."

Both senators promised to work in a "continuing relationship" to get Lynn's redevelopment back on track. "It will take months and years to rebuild Lynn, but it will be done," said Kennedy.

Fire investigators said yesterday that they had interviewed a dozen persons to determine the cause of the fire, but said that until they examine the lot at 266 Broad st., site of the former Hutchinson's Wharf, where fire officials believe the fire began, they would not comment on whether arson was involved. Joseph A. O'Keefe, the state fire marshal, said over the weekend the fire was set.

"We don't know if we're on foot or horseback on this one yet and the building (Hutchinson's Wharf* is still too hot to get in," said Lynn Detective Alfred Duemling, who is in charge of the Lynn fire squad formed Sunday.

The presence of water - some of it gathered in artificial lakes frozen around the bottom of fragile building skeletons - was also impeding the investigation he said. Investigators said they expect to enter the building today.

Demolition of about a dozen freestanding hazardous walls continued yesterday, and Buildings Comr. Arthur Coates said he hoped to open the area to traffic by tomorrow.

"All things considered, I think we've done a fanastic job knocking down the dangerous walls and moving the debris into piles behind the property lines," he said.

More than 50 million gallons of water, some of it drafted from Lynn harbor, was dumped on the massive conflagration, according to Deputy Fire Chief William Conway.

Eighty-four 84 Massachusetts cities and towns sent 97 engine companies and 27 ladders to Lynn, supplementing the city's nine engines, four ladder and two rescue companies, he said.

Fire Chief Scanlon told Kennedy that "my fire equipment is in shambles," and said he would need about $100,000 to restore the city's firefighting capabilities.

The Red Cross said 200 Lynn families had applied for disaster aid and said that the best way for the public to assist them would be to send monetary gifts to the charitable organization.

Globe staffer Edward Quill contributed to this report.

 Day of the fire storm in Lynn (Boston Globe, 11/29/81)
 List of injured in Lynn fire (Boston Globe, 11/29/81)
 Federal aid tight, senators tell Lynn (Boston Globe, 12/1/81)
 JEREMIAH MURPHY: A tough old city (Boston Globe, 12/1/81)
 How they fought the Lynn fire (Boston Globe, 12/4/81)
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