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Apr 28, 2005

Albert Street rebuilds in wake of looting

Story PictureThe destruction that occurred in downtown Belize City last Wednesday night was accomplished in a matter of minutes. The rebuilding, however, has taken longer. This morning I visited Albert Street where the sound of commerce had replaced that of breaking glass.

Leopoldo Silva, Owner, Venus Photos and Records
?I?m very optimistic that we will get back.?

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
A week ago, Leopoldo Silva was picking up the pieces of his store left behind by looters. Today, he opened his doors for the first time in seven days.

Leopoldo Silva
I would just like to thank those people who have dropped in, who have called and showed their support, and have encouraged us to continue. We really appreciate that.?

According to Silva, vandals pried open his shutters and hit the front section of his store hard, taking cameras, jewellery, cell phones and thousands of CDs. Silva says the scene that Thursday night was unbelievable.

Leopoldo Silva
?I was surprised at the level of destruction, just utter destruction, like just, people wanted to break up everything. And I couldn?t figure out why they would just want to break up everything. I can understand people stealing, but just destruction. It was ugly.?

So ugly in fact, the management and staff of Venus Photos and Records remain traumatised by the incident. The empty walls, broken glass, and even the ladies room where police found two looters hiding, are all reminders of that night.

Leopoldo Silva
?I wasn?t upset, I wasn?t mad, I was simply confused and I probably it didn?t quite sink in. But yes, it is a night I do want to forget. I never took the time to record it, I have my own video camera and I was planning to record it, but I thought it was best to forget that night as quick as possible. And of course, we have secured the building some more, the shutters, we have secured it a lot, but we are still a bit scared you know. The staff is very scared, they worry a lot about when it can happen again.?

Venus estimates in all they suffered more than a hundred thousand dollars in damages and lost merchandise. Determined not to give up, Silva has opened with limited stock, eager to have customers return to his store.

Leopoldo Silva
?Maybe within a couple weeks, maybe three weeks we?ll have–we have already ordered stuff. I don?t know how I?ll pay for it, but I have ordered it.?

The downtown area remains under tight police protection, but storeowners say business has been down since last week?s looting. At Hofius Limited, the recovery effort continues, but it?s been a bumpy ride.

Jacqueline Roe, Assistant Mgr., Hofius Limited
It?s been a rollercoaster both emotionally and professionally. Of course, we arrived the day after, the place was devastated and we?ve from that to this, to being open. But we are back on our feet, we?re open for business and we?re ready for our customers.?

According to assistant manager at Hofius, Jacqueline Roe, damage to goods is calculated at more than a hundred thousand dollars. But what was the number one item stolen? Basketballs.

Jacqueline Roe
?The basketballs are very significant because the value of the basketballs was only twenty-two fifty each. It tells you who was in this store that night. What they were going for, what they wanted. They didn?t want a tool or a piece of–they wanted a basketball. So what does that tell you??

?If you had been here Thursday morning and seen the destruction for no reason… It wasn?t–the stealing and the looting is one thing, but the devastation is something hard to take. That somebody would just walk through the store and just smash, smash things.?

Roe says the clean up effort would have taken longer were it not for her dedicated staff.

Jacqueline Roe
?I have to commend my staff, again. They were fantastic. The staff had this place cleaned up between two to three hours as far as getting the glass out. Yes, we have restocked from our warehouse and we have two containers at the port that we are unloading this week. So our stock is coming in fast and furiously. We are open for business. I think that?s important because I think a lot of people feel that as a result of what happened on Albert Street, Albert Street is not operational. That?s not true, Albert Street is operational, our doors are open and we need customers now more than ever.?

Other storeowners, like the Sadarangani family of Gaylord of King Street, say it will take another week to restock their shelves and open doors. The shutters at Miami Fashion remain closed.

And as the commercial capital struggles to attract customers downtown, the illegal market is thriving with the stolen goods. However, the Police Department says their investigation has netted several missing wares.

G. Michael Reid, Police Press Officer
?A number of items were recovered and in fact the police are asking people who believe they might have lost items during this unfortunate occurrence to visit the police station to see if they can identify any of the items as theirs.?

Janelle Chanona
?Now we know a lot of these items are floating around the city, what is your message to anyone who encounters these items??

G. Michael Reid
?The message remains the same. It is not wise to buy stolen property or any goods as a result of crimes committed. That makes the person as guilty as the person who stole it and certainly that carries a hefty fine and penalty by law.?

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