Employees Try to Pick Up Pieces from Devastating Chateau Caribbean Fire
Employees of the Chateau Caribbean are picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the iconic restaurant. While most people are preparing for the Christmas, scores of employees have been left jobless. Official investigations are ongoing, but a long-serving employee of the Chateau provides gripping details of what went awfully wrong on Sunday morning when a fire broke in the kitchen and demolished the landmark establishment. Maria Villanueva was in the kitchen prepping for a catering when the fire erupted. She also believes that the fire department was slow in responding. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Maria Villanueva is one of forty-five employees at the Chateau Caribbean Hotel. Tonight, she is out of work, following a devastating fire that eviscerated the historic colonial building on Sunday. As head chef, Villanueva’s primary responsibility is to oversee the preparation of food. That morning, the kitchen was very busy.
Maria Villanueva, Head Chef, Chateau Caribbean Hotel
“We had a catering to go for 11:45. I done boil my noodles, I done about to boil my vegetables for the noodles. The other girls were putting the… We have sweet and sour chicken. We have Chateau beef. We have fish in lemon garlic. We have… what else? Five items, oh the egg rolls. We have that and the blueberry pie and the key lime pie. We done have that, everything ready and then… While I turn to get vegetables, I only hear the long noise, then I heard boom. So I spun around and asked my coworker what is that?”
…and just like that the ceiling inside the kitchen was on fire. Neither Maria nor the staff working with her took notice at first.
“When we looked up, I tell ahn gyal wahn fyah and we sih di ceiling engulfed in fyah. Da dah corner [right deh] di corner where we prepare di meat and soh fi chop. Da right there di flame start. But then ih look like dat done engulf eena di ceiling and we noh know. Maybe di smoke mi di come up but we don’t see it. Da when da mussi di pressure ah di fyah mek di ceiling drop down and we couldn’t, we try, we try wi best. We tried the extinguisher. She had one, I had one and the other girl had one. We couldn’t save it.”
Neither could the fire department. Admittedly, Fire Chief Ted Smith recognized the intensity of the conflagration, as well as a number of setbacks that his men had to overcome in fighting the fire.
Ted Smith, Fire Chief, National Fire Service
“It was quite a fire. There will always be challenges because we play catch up.”
While there has been mixed feedback from those present at the scene of the blaze, complete destruction of the twentieth century architecture is being attributed to tardy response on the part of the National Fire Service. According to Villanueva, firemen did not spring into action until about an hour after arriving on the scene.
“This is poor, poor, poor work for the fire department. Dehn tek like one hour fi try out di fire, dat time di fire done destroy the building. Dat time dehn coulda mi save this ova da part, di cement part. Dehn didn’t do it because dehn run out of wata. Dehn don’t have any wata at all and di sea is right.”
In spite of an additional thirty recruits officially joining the fold last Wednesday, the National Fire Service is, itself, constantly under fire and seemingly leaves a lot to be desired.
“You saw consistently a constant flow of water, tens of thousands of gallons of water thrown into that fire to bring that fire under control. We do not have a perfect National Fire Service but we have a fire service that is dedicated and tried its very best and I am sure you can see some of that from the footage that was taken out there.”
The complement of employees at Chateau Caribbean has been rendered jobless. Villanueva has been working here for the past twenty-eight years.
“I love my work and I love my job and I love the way how my boss dehn treat all the staff. We have wahn nice boss and he treat we to di best ah ih ability. We noh have no problem with them and whenever we want help or something he willing to help we. And for we gaan through this, this da like wahn disaster for we because all of us are single mothers who work here and Mrs. Lou she is the one weh help we and told we dat we da single mothers. She tried to help us. She’s a mother and she’s a boss and she is everything to we. We couldn’t save it. We couldn’t. All weh we coulda do we tell dehn unu let’s go and we get outta here and save fu we life. Then Mr. Lou was running back upstairs in the fire and we tell ahn Mr. Lou you cannot go anymore in there. It’s dangerous, the ceiling wahn collapse. Then I look round fu Mrs. Lou and I cohn get ahn outta di store room and I bring ahn out pan di street. One suit a clothes, dehn noh have anything, couldn’t salvage anything. Everything destroyed in the fire.”
“Were there any guests occupying any of the rooms at the time?”
“Three rooms. Three rooms at that time, but dehn come out with dehn luggage, everything. We neva mek dehn get hurt eena di fyah. We mek sure dehn tek dehn out.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.