Sixteen homeless after West Dem chowmein factory fire

-two homes gutted

A Saturday night fire that started in a Sisters Village, West Bank Demerara chowmein factory completely destroyed two houses leaving 16 persons, including eight children, homeless.

The fire started at around 11pm on Saturday at the factory which is owned by Chinese couple Chu and Zang. The building was unoccupied at the time and has been closed for about six months leading to the belief that the fire was electrical in origin. Fire tenders from the Guyana Fire Service and the nearby GuySuCo Wales Estate rushed to the scene but their fire-fighting efforts were hampered by the fact that they had to access water from a trench that was some distance away. They did however, manage to save the house that is located in the front lot.

At the Lot 38, Sisters Village address yesterday morning, the women who once called the houses their home were lamenting the fact that they were unable to save any of their worldly possessions and at least two families did not know where they would be resting their heads last night.

Mother of three, Nariman Khalil – who also had her two-year-old grandchild living with her – was the first person to notice that their house was on fire as she was up late taking care of her sick son. “He was vomiting and he had hot fever so I was looking he after when I notice the factory on fire and a zinc blow and then we house (caught fire). So all I coulda do is just wake up me children and wake up dem other people and run out,” the woman said.

She explained that the building she lived in was divided into four apartments: the entire upper flat while the bottom flat was divided into three apartments. Khalil shared one of the apartments with her husband, their three children and her grandchild.

A section of the second house that was destroyed by fire of unknown origin on Saturday night.
A section of the second house that was destroyed by fire of unknown origin on Saturday night.
Fire victims from left to right, Nariman Khalil, Rafeena Rasheed and Monett Tony stand in front of the place they once called home.
Fire victims from left to right, Nariman Khalil, Rafeena Rasheed and Monett Tony stand in front of the place they once called home.

Twenty-year-old Rafeena Rasheed lived in another apartment with her husband and three children while a man, said to be mentally unstable, lived in the third apartment. Monett Tony and her two-year-old daughter lived in the upper flat while a woman and her adult son lived in the other house.

While the shell of the factory still stands, its owners said that the interior along with the equipment went up in flames. “Right now is me wuking clothes I still get on. I come last night and I didn’t even get to bathe yet because I looking after me son and now look I still wearing my work clothes and nothing more to wear,” Khalil said.

As she spoke, Rasheed chimed in that her family also had nowhere to stay. Some persons from the neighbourhood had given them a few pieces of clothing and undergarments for themselves and their children and for these, both women are grateful. Khalil said that these would ensure that she goes to work today as she pointed out she still has to continue to earn and she does not want to run the risk of losing her job.

But she is so desperate for somewhere for herself and family to stay that she has already approached a relative of her landlord with the request to “block off a lil something right here (at the fire site) so we can stay.” Looking at the still smouldering fire at the site, it is hard to imagine this being possible but a determined Khalil explained that with the use of the same burnt-out material and whatever others may want to donate, she could manage to put up a structure so that her family could at least rest their heads. “We don’t have nowhere to go and we have to sleep somewhere,” the distressed woman said.

For Tony who also lost everything, her situation is not as dire as she explained that she and her daughter have several relatives in the village with whom they can seek lodging. Tony recalled that she was asleep when she was awakened by Khalil and upon investigation, she saw the house was on fire. She managed to run out with a suitcase containing some of her daughter’s belongings but was unable to save anything else.


‘Work hard’

A section of the chowmein factory where the fire started.
A section of the chowmein factory where the fire started.

Over at a small Chinese restaurant, located a stone’s throw away from the fire site, Zang told Stabroek News about how hard she and her 49-year-old husband worked to establish the factory. In tears, the woman recalled that she had closed the shop and retired to bed when she heard the telephone ringing. “I say me nah answer because could be some junkie or somebody calling fuh fun but then ah hear somebody calling outside and when I get up, ah hear the factory on fire,” she said.

Zang recalled that when they arrived at the location, the fire was raging and there was nothing they could do. The woman said she and her husband, who was unwell when this newspaper visited, had worked hard to establish the factory. She said that since they arrived from China about 15 years ago, they have been living in the village and they have worked all these years to make a living.

The woman revealed that they have not been operating the factory for half a year because the operating cost was too much but they had hoped to re-open in the near future. “Now everything we work hard to buy just gone, nothing nah save,” she said.

Zang expressed her sympathy to the other fire victims saying that it was “really sad but we don’t know how deh fire start, nobody was in there.” She said that they live a quiet life with their two teenage children, both of whom were born in Guyana, and were just trying to make a living.



The rubble of the building that housed four families following a late night fire at Sisters Village.
The rubble of the building that housed four families following a late night fire at Sisters Village.

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