Victoria Road fire victims seek return to normalcy

-still awaiting promised gov’t help

Some of the fire victims who have been staying at the Plaisance Community Centre

Over a dozen of the residents displaced by the Mashramani Day fire at Victoria Road, Plaisance, East Coast of Demerara, are seeking the government’s assistance to return to their normal lives.

Fifteen of the total 40 persons whose homes were among the three buildings destroyed in the fire are currently staying at the Plaisance Community Centre.

However, the fire victims have since voiced concerns about the poor condition of the centre as well as their disappointment that although several government officials had promised to assist during the recovery process, it appears as though they have been forgotten about.

On February 23rd, the fire, the origin of which remains unknown, destroyed three Victoria Road houses, including an apartment building, and scorched nearby properties.

The following day, when investigators returned to the scene, they stumbled upon skeletal remains, suspected to be those of 80-year-old James Johnson, who is believed of have perished in the fire.

Johnson occupied one of the rooms in the apartment building.

A source close to the investigation had previously related to this newspaper that while the buildings in the street had been experiencing electrical issues prior to the fire, the findings are pointing in the direction of negligence as being the cause of the fire.

However, the source had said that investigation is not yet completed as one occupant, who was deemed a person of interest and who occupied a room on the ground floor of the apartment building where the fire is suspected to have started, was to be interviewed.

It is unclear if the interview has since been conducted.

Following the fire, several government ministers, including Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally, Junior Minister of Natural Resources Simona Broomes and Minister of State Joseph Harmon had visited the victims and made donations.

‘I really can’t catch myself’

When Sunday Stabroek visited the shelter recently, the victims related that they were not pleased with the support given by the government as they need help to properly resume their lives.

Curtis Smith, a carpenter, told Sunday Stabroek that since the fire occurred he has been in distress. “From then to now, I am in deep distress. The situation I am living under right now is not nice,” Smith said.

“Coming here is one—the things that I got to do or what I accustom doing in the morning, I can’t get to do, can’t get to be the person I used to be. From then to now, I really can’t catch myself, I just trying, trying, trying and still can’t mek it”, he explained.

According to Smith, what bothers him most are the “unfulfilled promises” that were made by the ministers and other officials during the visits to the scene.

He recalled a female who claimed to be associated with Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman had also visited them to enquire about the needs of himself and other victims.  “They had wanted to know what was our needs at that time and everybody gave it in a brief statement, in writing what we would like and from since then to now we haven’t gotten responses,” he said.

Smith explained that he had been saving with the aim of obtaining a mortgage through the bank in order to purchase a home but the cash he had in his apartment was destroyed.

He related that he had written a letter to an official of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) requesting assistance to obtain a plot of land but he has not yet gotten any response. “I was hoping that they could assist me in some way, especially [with] the land, so that I could get on with my land, now I can’t get to focus properly,” he said.

“I am asking if they [the government] could assist me in getting somewhere to live,” he pleaded.

The victims related that they are uncertain how long they will be allowed to remain at the shelter. “…We don’t know if they could come tomorrow or tonight and say y’all cannot stay here anymore,” Smith lamented.

Meanwhile, Rowena Glasgow, a seamstress, also expressed similar concerns. “After the first week of the fire, since we were given $10,000 by the Minister Amna Ally, nobody look back to find out how we are doing or anything,” she said.

Glasgow said she cannot work even if she is willing since getting a job is not easy and she lost her equipment in the fire. “I lost four [sewing] machines in the fire. So, all my little resources I am pooling it together with whatever little assistance I get, just to get somewhere to live”, she noted, while adding, “because we don’t want to be living under these conditions all the time, it’s very strenuous.”

Glasgow had already started building her own home prior to the fire, but the construction has since stalled. “I already started the foundation and all I am asking is for some assistance, if the government or anybody could give me some kind of assistance, even if is just to build a little something,” she said.

She is also calling on the relevant authorities to provide counselling to the victims. “..A lot of people [are] taking it hard, even though we might just walk down the road and smiling, it gets to us some time or the other because we lost a lot. Each and every person, they lost a lot in that fire,” Glasgow explained.

Conditions

The fire victims also said when it rains, the roof of the centre leaks, there are no secure doors and windows, the steps are rotting and dangerous to traverse on a daily basis and there is one only one bathroom facility, which they all have to share.

“When rain fall, the place does be terrible. Yuh gah get up and move, yuh gah get up and move yuh bed or fold it up or something,” Sharon McBean said.

The victims also said their daily expenses are going up as they were asked not to cook in the building. ”You can’t cook in the place. Every day you gah deh buying food, it more expensive,” McBean related.

Another resident, Kerwyn Johnson, also related that the stairway they use to access the building is rotting. “It’s a dry weather building,” Johnson said.

However, they were thankful for access to electricity and water. “Electri-city, they came and look at it the other day because it was in state of condition I had to call [a] fire hazard,” Johnson said.

As it relates to safety, the victims said that apart from the gate to the main entrance being padlocked, the centre does not have a security guard and they have to stay vigilant. “Everybody, we try to look out for one another because here don’t have a security and everybody just walk in and walk out the compound,” Johnson noted.

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