Fire guts Plaza 2001, business owners count losses

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Fire officers and a TTEC crew at the scene after a fire gutted Plaza 2001 on Chaguanas Main Road, Chaguanas on Saturday. – LINCOLN HOLDER

VISHANNA PHAGOO

Plaza 2001 in Chaguanas is known for being one of the places to stop by for a haircut or some food while shopping in the borough. But on Saturday morning, that changed for shoppers and business owners when the building caught on fire forcing everyone to leave for their safety.

Most of the damage was done to the back of the building and could be seen on Trial Street. The entire top floor of Plaza 2001, which has its entrance on Chaguanas Main Road, was gutted while the state of the rest of the building was yet to be determined.

Across the plaza, around 50 tenants and employees gathered trying to console each other. Some of the tenants estimated their loss to be over $900,000, although the cost of damage is yet to be given.

Owner of Hair Solutions by Anisa, Anisa Binda said she felt very sad about the loss of her livelihood as she glanced tearfully at the building.

“It’s very sad, things are very hard now so, this loss is big.”

Binda said because of the covid19 restrictions implemented in 2020, she has only been back out for a full year but was now looking at $300,000 in losses. She said in that one year, there was no way she was able to make enough to recover from that financial hole and is relying on her insurance to get back on her feet.

“I just have to wait and see what’s going on with the insurance now and then I would take it from there because it would be really hard to take out that kind of money now to start back.”

Another tenant Ronnie Kelly couldn’t stop staring into the building, blackened by the flames. Kelly, owner of Javana’s Delicious Dishes, estimated he had $6,000 in losses.

“We done loss so much already and business finally pick back up after so long.”

Kelly said he plans to relocate but is uncertain of where to, and when since everything he needs to start over was in the building.

“That alone makes it 100 per cent worse.”

His last hope is that his insurance will help him bring his business back to life.

The condition of VR’s Photo Studio was unknown, but owner Roopan Ramlochan said he’s looking at $600,000 in losses. He said his inventory was in the building where he has been in business for 22 years. Ramlochan lost computers with editing software, cameras, videography equipment, and fixtures.

“Being here for 22 years, and having to start back over, I don’t think I could because the loss and the kind of equipment I have to get to run the photography business is very expensive.”

Ramlochan said within minutes his entire business was gone.

“I just came this morning (Saturday) and all of a sudden they said that the building is on fire and there’s smoke and everybody just start to evacuate. In the space of two minutes, the building was filled with smoke and we’ve been outside since then.”

His wife, Veena, standing next to him with her face full of worry, added, “All your lifetime of work, everything that you have invested in is gone in two minutes.”

All businesses were suspended on the Chaguanas Main Road leaving multiple street vendors without an income for a couple of hours. One pineapple vendor, who preferred to go by Vanessa, said the loss for her wasn’t as substantial as she just moved to the market which was a stone’s throw away. Another vendor said his problem was the large clouds of black smoke billowing from the building. But he was glad to be back in his spot as he immediately started shouting, “Eddoes for sale!” when the police reopened the area.

Divisional fire officer Gary Sookdeo said the Central Division received notice about the fire around 9 am and units were greeted with the roaring fire and thick smoke when they arrived.

“Our officers with their equipment got to work and got it under control. We had appliances from the northern and southern division.”

He said investigations are ongoing and the cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CCIC) Richie Sookhai said it’s a sad and difficult time for the business owners, especially coming out of the pandemic and just before the reopening of school on Monday.

“To have this happening right now is rather unfortunate and we do hope that there is some sort of assistance to be given especially from the State towards these individuals.”

Sookhai urged those who are now out of a job to submit their applications to the CCIC and said they would try to assist as much as possible.