Fire ravages Haitian City

POSTED: 10/14/13 12:25 PM

St. Maarten- An early morning fire in the Cole Bay area has left more than 30 families homeless and caused extensive damage to nearby properties.

The fire reportedly started just after 1:00 a.m. on Sunday and while the origin of the fire is still unknown Cole Bay residents speculate that it may have started after multiple lightening strikes a few minutes before the blaze and then was fuelled by combustible materials and heavy winds. In its wake the inferno has left a demolished area that was known as Haitian City, nestled between Well Road, West Union Road and the Carl and Son’s Unique Inn. The area housed many shanty type structures in an unregulated but very close knit community.

Fire fighters spent hours trying to contain and then extinguish the inferno. Water supply was limited when the first fire tender arrived via West Union Road. After approximately 5 minutes of fighting the blaze, the tender left that section of the area and made its way to Carl and Son’s Unique Inn on the Orange Grove Road, where it was able to access a fire hydrant and fight the blaze frontally.

“I am mad with the Fire Department, they take 45 minutes to get here then stand up here for 5 minutes, don’t do a thing and turn off. Then come back spray water for 5 minutes and leave. They don’t know how hard people work to get what they have,” one woman screamed.

From early on, homeowners accepted that their dwellings would be completely gutted.  Many of them jumped over the walls of adjoining properties to escape the blaze. As heavy winds fanned the flames, homeowners in adjacent properties scampered for safety. However some had to be forced to leave their homes and valuables as the fire licked their roofs. If not for a concrete wall that separated the shanty town from the middle class residents at West Union Road, the damage would have been more extensive, spreading all the way to properties directly on Well Road.

Police had the difficult task of evacuating men, women, children and even pets from properties that appeared under threat.

School teacher Vesta Benn recounted how she had just retired to bed when she was awoken by the crashing sound of embers.

“I was sleeping and all I heard is like a noise like my door was being kicked down. Then my neighbor was shouting fire fire! I just got up and started to put the things outside. I was rushing and people around me were panicking. When the fire fighters came they realized they couldn’t fight it from this end. They had to go around. While I was trying to back out my car and man with a suitcase jump over the fence, he couldn’t speak English good but was telling me to drop him somewhere. I guess his house was already burnt by then, I told him I couldn’t drop him because I was trying to save my stuff. We had gas bottles in the yard and they had to pull them out quick before they had exploded.”

Property owners Edmond and Catherine Newton suffered extensive damage to their three story house that is sublet to several couples. Broken windows and tiles, a singed roof, a massive amount of smoke and water damage were the tell-tale signs

“This is not the first fire I have been in a situation like this but this one I must admit did not have an efficient response from the fire fighters. They took more than 20 minutes to get here and then sprayed water for 5 minutes and left. Then came back, this was just incredible trying to calm people down. One lady just stood in her house screaming and praying. I had to convince her to leave the house because of the heavy smoke. But I believe her prayers saved a lot of people and properties,” one of the fire victims related.

An American tourist couple, Roger and Cristal Prince, who were staying at one of the homes affected by the fire, said that they were disappointed with the response of the Fire Department.

“We were enjoying St. Maarten until the fire. This was an interesting experience. Just coming out here and seeing how people live and comparing it with the US shows us that you also go through some of the things we experience. Especially what happened a couple of weeks ago in Jersey where the fire just kept picking up and the wind kept taking it. All the people could do was just watch it burn. We were sleeping in the bed and heard screaming but didn’t think it was anything to worry about because almost every night we heard fighting.  Then we heard more screaming of fire and we just quickly grabbed the kids and our passports and ran out. We didn’t care about anything else. You are never prepared for a fire, you just have to leave everything else and run with whatever you have on,” they told us.

The couple left the island, destined for New York on midday Sunday, after spending all morning huddled together with their two toddlers in a minivan.

Some homeowners also reported looting during the early morning fire. While neighbors banded together to remove articles from homes under threat, not everyone was a good Samaritan. Sources said several suspected thieves were caught sneaking into houses under the cover of darkness. They had taken advantage of the police’s instruction to cut power in the area to avoid any electrical fires.

 

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