smouldering: A fire officer douses smoking debris at the burnt-out Festival of India Expo shops at the Divali Nagar site in Chaguanas yesterday. —Photos: INNIS FRANCIS

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Fire destroys India Expo

50 merchants lose everything

By Sandhya Santoo sandhya.santoo@trinidadexpress.com

The Festival of India Expo in Chaguanas was burnt to the ground in a suspected arson attack yesterday, causing millions in losses.

The fire which was seen at around 2 a.m. at the Divali Nagar site, destroyed the stalls of at least 50 merchants who sold clothing, jewelry and furniture.

One hundred and fifty local workers, mostly women, are now jobless. 

Officers of the Chaguanas Fire Station, located on the other side of the highway and within site of the fire scene, arrived at the scene at around 2.45 a.m. 

The response of fire fighters was hampered because they had to cut the wire fence in order to gain access to the compound.

Police have information that four men climbed a fence and set the fire, using molotov cocktails. 

Acting Fire Station Officer Brian Huggins told the Express “it (the cause of the blaze) is 100 per cent not an electrical problem”.

Fire officers reportedly found evidence of incendiary devices near the burnt-out enclosure, and handed it over to officers of the Chaguanas Police Station for forensic testing. 

Indian merchants have set up shops in several parts of Trinidad, selling merchandise at competitive prices, but have often been criticised and accused of operating illegally or selling substandard items.

Indian Merchant Tilak Raj told the Express yesterday: “I lost everything, we brought in a new shipment of clothes and had so many on display and now it is all gone.” 

The local workers are now fearing they have lost their jobs and their only source of income. In a telephone interview, president of the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) Deokienanan Sharma said the NCIC had leased 15 acres of land, and less than two acres had been leased to the merchants from India. 

He said, “The land itself is owned by Caroni 1975 limited.” When asked if the fire would hamper the work of the NCIC, Sharma said if the merchants had additional stock, the merchants could lease another space on the compound.

The Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) was at the scene yesterday to disconnect the electricity to the expo site and conduct a parallel investigation.

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