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Mar 28, 2008

Fresh flames shut down Albert St. again; damage estimates in millions

Story PictureIt was one of the worse fires to rock the downtown area and as News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports, Wednesday night’s blaze is dying a slow death.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
There was renewed anxiety on Albert Street this morning as fresh flames were spotted inside two of the buildings burnt out in Wednesday night’s inferno.

Fire fighters returned to the area and once again re-entered the building to soak the structure with water. Thick smoke forced the use of oxygen tanks.

Fearing the worse, Brodies and Sikaffy’s were quick to protect their buildings.

Henry Baizar, Fire Chief
“A lot of zinc is involved and even though you throw the water off the zinc it doesn’t really go to the bottom where we want to out and every so often with the pile of it and the heat itself, it just ignite itself from time to time. What we will do now, we will go through a process of trying to remove all the zinc as most as we can and then to go in there with the fire-fighters and pull things with the rake and hoax and what not and pull things apart and try to wet it and get it out as best as possibly can.”

Janelle Chanona
“According to the National Fire Service, a truck will be posted on Albert Street overnight to alleviate residents’ concerns about the additional flare ups. But while that situation can be brought under control, the new danger is that the severely damaged buildings could collapse.”

Henry Baizar
“I don’t think it will collapse onto the sidewalk. If it collapse, it will collapse inside. Our investigators are not too happy about it at the moment and that’s one of the things that we are doing on Albert Street at this present moment.”

Janelle Chanona
“To probe that to make sure it’s…”

Henry Baizar
“Yeah, to make sure it’s okay. We’re going to look at it, we’re going to have someone look at it to make sure that it will not collapse. We ourselves, we are not in there so we’re getting someone to look at it and to advise us what we need to do.”

One of those engineers being consulted is Francis Canto who is predicting that a crane will have to be brought in to demolish what’s left of the Romac’s building.

Francis Canto, Contractual Engineer
“We are going to hit it down.”

Janelle Chanona
“How long would that take?”

Francis Canto
“One to two days.”

What was once the Good Samaritan House will meet a similar fate. One of the hotspots that was still smouldering this morning was the remnants of the Shoman building which included a warehouse, four apartments, and three stores: Odettes, CD Plus and Maximo International. According to Yasmin Shoman, this is the first time the sixty year old building has been affected by fire.

Yasmin Shoman, Odettes
“We went up to what used to be apartments and they are just holes in the floor now. My entire—the stairway to my warehouse has completely collapsed. My two floors upstairs are collapsed it pretty much just a shell. But the wood that is left there and mattresses and stuff housed in our warehouse, they’re still on fire. I’m urging the fire department to come and please help put out, it’s very dangerous. Our adjusters could not enter the building either because they say it’s very unsafe. We take two steps inside the building and something collapses in front of us.”

Elsa Wiltshire, Employee, Maximo International
“I feel so fraid I had to come out because I no know if the roof wah drop right.”

While Shoman stayed on the street, the owner and employees of Maximo International braved conditions to save the little they could.

Prakash Chainani, Shoman Building Tenant
“We tried best because we don’t have insurance, it’s a big loss.”

Janelle Chanona
“Were you able to salvage anything? I noticed a couple pieces.”

Prakash Chainani
“Yeah, a couple of furniture and couple of shoes. Some of the boxes didn’t get wet at all so we tried to pick them up first.”

Janelle Chanona
“How much would you estimate you have lost?”

Prakash Chainani
“Well, my estimate is from seventy to eighty. We have saved some so I don’t know exact figure.”

Naim El-Amin, CD Plus
“It’s either that dah wah chemical fire right now weh hard fi out or somebody noh di do the job good. but right I’d a say that ih look like because lot of plastics and stuff mi deh een deh dah wah chemical fire weh kinda hard fi get extinguished. That dah basically weh, from weh I see, di fuel the fire all over again.”

Janelle Chanona
“Were you able to salvage anything at all?”

Naim El-Amin
“A small amount of stuff. Maybe like eight, nine thousand dollars worth of stuff. But because we deal in small electronics, that’s like a small box ah thing. Dah no nothing much so like ninety-eight percent of the stuff gone.”

El-Amin says he’s already working with creditors to reopen its Dolphin Street his branch.

As service crews handled the electrical problems on Church Street, Mickey Craig shifted through the rubble of the Book Centre.

Mickey Craig, The Book Centre
“Nothing is there, nothing is there. Found a pack of sweet sixteen cards just now you know , quinceanos cards, they are not really salvageable. Nothing in there, nothing in there.”

Janelle Chanona
“Is it…”

Mickey Craig
“Just the hope, hope is always salvageable right.”

While some businesses were wiped out, others survived unscathed.

Latchman Tekchandani, Albert Street Businessman
“The firemen was here last night and they are still here checking things out so I left it to God, he protect me since he protect me so far he’ll protect me the rest of my day.”

An indirect victim in the fire is Brodies’ downtown branch whose main doors had to closed again today.

Sherman Sawers, Manager, Brodies Albert Street
“We are asking them to use the Regent Street entrance through the pharmacy. The setting engineer advised us to keep our shutters closed due to the unsafe nature of the buildings across that were affected by the fire. It has caused some inconvenience to our customers, we are begging their patience. We’d like them to know we are still here, we are open to serve them as best as we can.”

The section of Albert Street between Church and Prince Streets will be close to motorists for the weekend. But as was evident today, crowd control of pedestrians remains a big concern.

Zenaida Moya, Belize City Mayor
“I’m appealing to all residents to not push the issue of walking along the immediate are in front of Romac’s and CD Plus until we have removed the barriera. We will have to ensure that residents understand that it is a potential disaster on our hand if in fact persons would go ahead and walk along and there would be a collapse in the building. For their safety I would ask them, appeal to them to not walk along that area.”

As for the cause of the fire, officials say investigations continue. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

The damage caused by the Albert Street fire is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

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