The People's Mall, which runs the block from Henry Street to Frederick Street, was gutted by fire today. Fire Fighters took more than six hours to bring this fire under control. It is reported that a call went out to the fire services at about 5.30am; however, the fire officers said they could not access water to deal with the fire. The entire People's Mall is now destroyed. Mohammed's Book Store, which borders the Mall, brought in private water trucks to wet their building.
Queensway fabric store suffered some fire and water damage. Francis Fashion-Shoe Locker store which is next to the People's Mall appeared to be untouched by the fire. Pizza Boys and several businesses that were opposite the People's Mall on Frederick Street were badly damaged. Many of the stores on Henry, Frederick and Charlotte streets remain closed as thousands of people flocked to Port of Spain to watch the fire. There are no reports of deaths or injuries to persons as a result of the fire. There is a heavy presence of Army and Police officers in Port of Spain.
The People's Mall, a Government office, six stores, and one restaurant were completely destroyed in the fire, with losses estimated to be around $30 Million dollars.
Mr. Michael Hamit, a business owner from The People's Mall, said:
"I live in Diego Martin and always try to come out early because of the traffic. When I reached Port of Spain, the taxi I was traveling in came down Frederick Street, the driver told me he was going Belmont, so I decided to come out on Henry Street and walk down. I arrived at the Mall at about 5:40am this morning. I passed through the main gate, which is usually used to enter the Mall, and started to prepare my booth for business as usual.
I heard Leroy calling, "Jah, Jah! Come". I thought the call sounded like a distress call and ran out of my booth. I saw Leroy coming out with a bucket in his hand. I asked him what was wrong, and Leroy said, "Fire in front". When I went to see what was happening, I saw fire coming out from under the roof of one of the businesses. I ran back and picked up a bucket to get water. The water was just dripping. Leroy and I started a bucket brigade but that method was not working. Leroy decided to call the Fire Brigade. When the Fire trucks came, they had no water so nothing could be done. The fire just kept blazing. If they had tried to save the front of the Mall, the fire would not have reached all the way to the back of the Mall. Although eventually the Fire Officers seemed to be trying their best, it was a waste of time since the fire was already out of control."
Hamit said the fire would have started before he arrived at the Mall.
Another eyewitness said:
"The fire was contained in a small corner of the Mall from the beginning. This would not have happened to businesses other than the poor people business places, and the Fire Brigade would certainly not have come with empty water trucks. Given the time the Fire Brigade was called, they had sufficient time to contain the fire. Many of the Mall business owners were already inside of the Mall from early this morning."
Another eyewitness said:
"People kept telling the Fire Officers to surround the small space where the fire was burning in order to prevent the fire from spreading. Certain communities wanted Black people out, so they could have more control. Even if the fire did not start deliberately, it was a deliberate plot to keep it burning. Certain other businesses would have been treated differently under these circumstances."
One business owner on the Mall said:
"Twenty years ago certain big business operators in Port of Spain wrote a letter to the Fire Chief stating that The People's Mall was a fire hazard. The People's Mall business owners have in the past, gotten reports of threats to burn down the Mall."
Another eyewitness said:
"The fire started early this morning. I came outside about twice. I looked for Leroy but couldn't find him, and then I looked down the lane in the Mall but couldn't find anybody but the sweeper. Finally, one of the guys shouted out about there being a fire in the Mall. The fire was in a contained area but was not being dealt with by the fire men to prevent it from spreading. I offered to assist them by getting a hose; they told me not to interfere in the event something happens to me. They were not capable, and every time they had to attend to a fire they were not equipped to handle the situation."
He asked, "How is it that there was insufficient water to out the fire today but they always seem to have sufficient water to wash the streets every morning?" He said, "The fire could have been out completely from very early, only 15 to 20 booths would have been affected had things been dealt with differently. The Fire Officers seemed afraid to attack the fire. After a brief period of watering down the buildings where the fire was blazing, they had to stop because of lack of water."
When he was asked by another reporter for his views about the widespread belief on the streets that the fire was planned by certain business people, he replied, "Well, I say, fire for me, fire for them. I heard that one of the police expressed negative things about the Mall and carelessly disregarded our efforts towards building our businesses. I do not feel that they were taking what was happening seriously based on how the whole thing was approached."
Not having any definite place to continue business as usual, this business man said, "I will now have to set up my business on the sidewalk of the Henry street entrance to The People's Mall. We need a government that will see about the real needs of the people. The water system is an issue that needs to be seriously dealt with. Because of this fire, we have lost everything we had. Millions of dollars have been lost."
When it was put to him that the land where The People's Mall was is being considered for use as a car park because of the traffic congestion in Port of Spain, the gentle man said, "The president of the Mall will have to answer to that."
Chief Fire Officer Lennox Alfred said one of the problems was the construction of the Mall. He explained that most of the properties are small and narrow and the passages are clustered. These building problems constrained the fire men. He said the booths were built of wood which allowed the flames to spread rapidly. He further explained that water was a problem and several hydrants in the capital were dry.
Rumors about the cause of the fire range from:
1) The fire was masterminded by large Port of Spain businesses.
2) An accident with an appliance or battery in one booth.
3) The fire was deliberately set in one boot as an act of revenge for a recent murder.
When we (TriniView.com's Team) reached Port of Spain, the People's Mall was already completely destroyed and there were no more towering flames. The firemen were putting out smaller fires at the People's Mall site and the buildings on Frederick Street opposite the Mall.
Click here to view the pictures of what we saw.
Other news reports:
$25m in losses as firemen hit by water shortage
Angry Bishop as Trinity's steeple catches fire
Hundreds on breadline
Fire scorches Trinity Cathedral
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