14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 13 February 2017 – A Sunday fire heavily damaged the Panamerican Rayo Fair shop, in Havana’s Chinatown. The premises, located a few yards from the central corner of Zanja and Dragones, caught fire about one in the afternoon and it took the fire brigade more than three hours to smother the flames. The fire was put out without loss of human life or injuries.
The fire spread rapidly, consuming seven departments within the store, among those home appliances, perfumes, furs, clothing, basketry, boutique and cafeteria.
Yudith Gonzalez, a worker in the store, attributes the fire to “a short circuit in a power outlet on one of the wooden walls.” In statements to 14ymedio, the clerk regretted that when the first flames were noticed and the store evacuated she did not take her personal belongings or salvage merchandise.
A resident of 116 Rayo Street, who explained that “smoke covered the whole area,” watched from his balcony as the “shop windows exploded sending pieces out into the street.”
Given the high residential density of this area of Central Havana and the commercial character of Chinatown, the firefighters had to cordon off the perimeter and convince numerous onlookers to keep their distance. After three and a half hours’ work, the fire was put out.
Several high-ranking officials from the Ministry of the Interior and directors of the Cimex Corporation, to which the shopping center belongs, came to the area. The experts began to investigate the precise causes of the fire.
From nearby buildings, numerous neighbors decided to film the flames with their cellphones, a practice increasingly common among Cubans. The closeness of the building to the Fe del Valle Park wifi connection zone, meant that many of the images were uploaded to social networks within hours.
A young man who was recording nearby commented to this paper that he saw the smoke from La Cabaña Fort, where he had been visiting the Book Fair. “I came to see what happened because I was afraid something had happened to my house,” said the young man, who lives in a poorly maintained building on San Nicolas Street, a few yards from fire.
After putting out the flames, the firefighters began to evacuate the area and fill the street with items ranging from burned up washing machines to other home appliances blackened by the smoke. At dusk Zanja Avenue was reopened although access to that stretch of Rayo Street remains blocked.