Demolition Begins At MOVE Site
May. 25, 1985
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Bulldozers Saturday began demolishing the remains of the 61 homes destroyed by fire during a police battle with the radical group MOVE, preparing the ground for city-financed reconstruction.
As the machinery knocked down walls and removed debris, some of the 270 people left homeless by the May 13 blaze returned to the rubble of their homes to look for belongings or take photographs.
''Nothing but a bunch of bricks and dirt there,'' said Thomasine Mapp, 26, who was with her father, Thomas Mapp, a 23-year resident of the block.
Her daughter, Nakita, 6, and nephew Thomas, 7, pointed out where their playmates used to live as a crane pulled apart a brick wall across the street from where their home stood.
Tears welled in Constance Renfrew's eyes as she and her husband, Gerald, stood at the entrance of what was their home for eight years. ''I lost everything,'' said Mrs. Renfrew, 35.
Area residents and curious bystanders gathered behind police barricades to watch the demolition.
The fire broke out after police, sent to a fortified rowhouse to evict the armed, radical group, dropped a bomb on the home's rooftop bunker. Remains of 11 people, including those of four children, were recovered from the house.
The demolition crews moved in 24 hours after police completed their painstaking, 10-day search of the MOVE building and neighboring houses. Officers said they uncovered two shotguns, three handguns and one rifle but no automatic weapons, which police originally said the radicals had used.
Officers said they also recovered drums that apparently contained a flammable liquid.
On Saturday afternoon, residents who lost their homes in the fire met at nearby St. Carthage Roman Catholic Church to review proposed plans for new homes to be built at city expense.
''They looked pretty neat. It'll be better than what we had,'' said Mapp, 53. ''But it won't be the same,'' added the resident, whose ''mint condition'' 1960 Super 88 Oldsmobile was lost in the fire.
After demolition is finished, the city's Redevelopment Authority will take over the site and contract with a private developer for the reconstruction, which Mayor W. Wilson Goode has promised to complete by Christmas.
James S. White, city commissioner of licenses and inspections, said he expected to workmen to finish demolishing the walls on Tuesday and clear the site by June 15.
The demolition contractor was given a list from the residents of belongings to look for, including a safe, strong boxes with important papers and a motorcycle, which was wheeled intact from the debris by a workman later Saturday.
Meanwhile, officials have identified one of four children killed along with seven adults in the police assault. The child was 9-year-old Boo Africa, also known as Tomasa and John, according to Dr. Bettina Hoerlin, deputy health commissioner.
The child's mother, Sue Levino Africa, one of MOVE's few white members, has not been told about the death, according to officials at the state Correctional Institution at Muncy, where Ms. Africa is imprisoned.
Authorities now have identified six of the bodies recovered from the smoldering rubble of the MOVE house.