NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla - Homeless and mourning the loss of pets is not how anyone wants to start off the new year.
Only this is exactly what Debra Purnell, 51, is doing following a devastating fire at her New Port Richey home on January 4.
Purnell, who cannot afford a television, decided to go to the clubhouse of her mobile home park to catch a few shows. She was there for only a few hours when she heard cars honking and people screaming. By the time she made it back to her home, it was ablaze and smoke was billowing out of every window.
"It is all gone," explained Purnell.
Purnell not only lost her home, clothing, jewelry and everything she owned but five or her six beloved cats died in the fire.
"It hurts. I have nightmares," she said.
Purnell considered her cats, some of which she had for close to 13 years, her babies. She said she tried to save them but couldn't.
"If I could have, I would have. But I couldn't see anybody," she recalled.
It is unclear what sparked the fire.
Purnell recently paid off her mortgage. Sadly, she does not have homeowner's insurance and will not have to dig into her savings to get basic necessities.
Neighbors at Riverbend Mobile Home Village are trying to get Purnell back on her feet.
"You get to the point in your life where you are a senior and you think it should be easy and life throws you a curve ball," said Linda, a neighbor.
Linda has helped find a temporary home for Purnell to live in and is coordinating donation efforts. Thus far, some clothing, food and furniture has been donated. But with Purnell only able to salvage a garbage bag full of her belongings, more help is needed.
"No one deserves to end up with nothing after years of working hard," Linda added.
Purnell's friends told ABC Action News they will continue to be there for her and their goal is to help her until she is debt-free.
On Friday, January 18, a benefit is being held for Purnell. It is going to be held at Riverbend Mobile Home Village located at 5330 Green Key Road in New Port Richey at 5 p.m. There will be music and a chili cook-off.
Those who attend are asked to make a donation and are encouraged to bring snacks that can be shared.
Questions can be directed to Linda. She can be reached at 727.849.1686.