Well-known businessman Yusuf Sankar, 77, died after he was trapped in his Main Street, Georgetown home, which was gutted by fire early yesterday morning.
Riyadh Sankar confirmed that his father perished in the fire that ripped through the three-storey building at Lot 51 Main Street, which also housed two businesses on the first floor.
The ground floor housed Risan’s and Jarrod’s photocopy and photography centres, which were both destroyed.
Riyadh, who lives abroad, told Stabroek News that the fire started around 5.30am, although Fire Chief Marlon Gentle related that a call was made to the Guyana Fire Service at 6.01am. Five fire tenders and an ambulance were sent to the scene.
Riyadh explained that he and other family members had gone to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), where they transported one of his brothers who was traveling overseas to visit their mother. When they returned home, they found the house on fire and there were no signs of the senior Sankar. The family was forced to stand and watch as the fire destroyed the building. “We were actually out and when we came back more than half of the house was ablaze. We tried to get the vehicles out,” Riyadh explained, while pointing out that at the time of the fire, his father and his caretaker, Claire Xavier, who has been working with the family for some 37 years, were home alone.
According to Riyadh, his father’s body was found near to the stairs that lead to the middle floor, where another stairway to exit the building is located. He said this indicated that his father was trying to escape the blaze.
Origins of fire possibly electrical
While the origins of the fire are currently still unknown, investigators are working with the theory that it might have been electrical since minutes before the fire, there were reports of fluctuating electricity, which Xavier confirmed.
While the still-traumatised woman was reluctant to speak with Stabroek News yesterday, a co-worker explained that she had earlier related what had transpired to them.
“She seh they had blackout and when the current come back on the fan started going fast, fast, fast and she want to know why it going like that and if it was load shedding or something. And then it went off and come on back again and she decided to turn the fan off,” the co-worker explained.
She said that Xavier had related that after she turned the fan off, she fell asleep and was woken by persons banging on the door loudly, indicating that there was a fire in the house and that she needed to leave.
“…When she got up she heard they saying ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ So, she tell Mr. Sankar that somebody saying fire and he got up from his bed and he asked her where the fire is and she said she doesn’t know,” the woman said.
It wasn’t until Xavier went down the stairs to the second floor that she was alerted to the blazing fire. The woman was greeted by thick black smoke and officers from the Prime Minister’s residence, which is nearby, who helped her escaped.
Stabroek News was told that that Xavier informed her rescuers that Sankar was still trapped upstairs and she tried to return to help him but was told that the fire was too much and that she could also become trapped with him.
Sankar’s body was subsequently retrieved from the burnt remains of the house and was taken to a funeral home.
When Stabroek News visited the home yesterday, family members and officers flocked the area. A burnt shotgun, which is said to have belonged to Sankar, was also removed from the debris.
Drug addicts rounded up
Meanwhile, with the family already grieving the loss of Sankar, its woes were compounded after the Guyana Police Force (GPF) rounded up drug addicts to help with the search and cleaning of debris.
At around 11 am, seven men, clad in worn out clothes, arrived at the scene in a pick-up truck. Some of the men had old shoes, while some had no shoes. They stood outside on the road for about 15 minutes, unaware of why they had been brought to the site.
According to one of the men, he was cleaning his grandmother’s drain in Leopold Street, when several persons in civilian clothes, armed with guns, pulled up and forced him to enter a van. Another explained that he was riding with a friend when the same van pulled up and picked them both up and dropped them off at the scene.
There was confusion after it became clear that the family had not asked for the assistance. One of the men related to Stabroek News that he wanted to urinate but was afraid of moving from the spot.
When the men learned that they were picked up and taken to the location to assist with the cleaning, they started protesting.
“I don’t even have on a slippers and they want me to go in a fire with all them debris and clean? I rather go in jail,” one of them said.
Another complained of knee troubles and not being able to do manual labour, while another said he was willing to work but only if he was paid a day’s wage.
At this point, the family intervened and asked that the men leave, since they were of the opinion that it was not safe for the men to assist with the cleanup, nor was it lawful since they were not in the employ of any organisation and were just picked up from off the road.
However, the police indicated that the men would be supervised. The family nonetheless declined their help and asked that the men leave. They were then subsequently told by one of the officers that they could leave. The men quickly dispersed.