Foreign students evacuated from another Myrtle Beach building

The Myrtle Beach Fire Marshal shut down a second building where foreign students live on Wednesday because of safety concerns.

Foreign students have been evacuated from another building in Myrtle Beach due to unsafe living conditions.

The city's fire marshal says a former commercial building at 804 1/2 Oak St. was converted into an apartment for foreign students without the proper building permits.

It's the second time this week city officials have found a building housing foreign students that had apparent fire code violations.

Police think that kind of problem had often happened before without city officials being aware of it, but an outreach program now in its second year is helping bring those issues to light.

Many foreign students on the Grand Strand for the summer working tourism jobs under the J1 and H2B visa program attend the program's orientation seminars held twice a week at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

"It's a welcome to America (meeting), but it's also more awareness of how not to be a crime victim, what their rights are while they're here in America," said Myrtle Beach Police Officer Pete Woods, who helped organize the outreach.

The orientation program for foreign students started last year, after police found out the international students were often targeted by criminals.

Woods says many of the students come from undemocratic countries where citizens mistrust the police.

"For them to meet a uniformed police officer that says 'I'm here to help' and actually means it, that's a very foreign concept for them," Woods said.

Fire marshal Bruce Arnel credits the outreach program with helping officials discover places like the Calypso Motor Inn, which was partially closed this week for fire code violations, and the building on Oak Street, which Arnel says wasn't designed for residential occupancy and lacked the proper fire safety equipment.

"A lot of the tips that we're getting about these conditions are coming from the actual students themselves," Arnel said.

Arnel says he wants landlords to know if they think they can make a quick buck by offering substandard housing to vulnerable foreign students, they will be prosecuted.

"If we find out that these conditions exist, then we are going to visit the properties and enforce the code. Everybody deserves to have a safe place to stay."

Arnel says the three students who lived in the Oak Street building have found new accommodations.

He says it doesn't reflect well on America when the international students go back to their home countries and tell their families and friends about poor living conditions in Myrtle Beach.

For a link to the orientation program's website, click here.