More than 30 firefighters worked since early morning on 30 January to contain a fire at the large shopping centre on Station Square in the centre of Tbilisi.
The Bavshvta Samyaro (Children’s World) shopping centre, as well as the nearby clothes and wholesale markets have been almost completely destroyed — an area of more than 10,000 square meters. One firefighter sustained lightly injuries during the fire, but he is not in critical condition.
Davit Gelashvili from the Emergency Services, told journalists that there had been a danger that the fire could spread to the underground subway system as well as to the city’s main railway station, however, that threat is now over.
For hours, firefighters worked to douse the flames from the exterior of the shopping centre, as the inside had become unstable, with a huge chunk of the first floor roof collapsing.
The shopping centre was surrounded by hundreds of people, mostly vendors, who had stalls selling clothes, furniture and even gold and silver in the surrounding markets.
‘What the hell am I going to do now, who will compensate us? How will they compensate us? Everything I had is probably burned to ashes’, said a tearful woman, Nazi.
Ladies stand in groups discussing the future. One group plans to launch active protests starting from Tuesday and will even block the railway if they don’t see that the government is doing their best to help the affected vendors.
Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania said that responsibility for the fire lies with the shopping centre’s administration. ‘These people had contracts with the administration and the administration has rights and duties, as well as responsibilities, and they have to respond to these people’, the mayor said.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but an investigation has been launched. The shopping centre’s administration has stated that they feel the full responsibility for what happened. But, Giorgi Machavariani, Executive Director of Bavshvta Samkaro, told journalists that they will await the conclusions of the investigation. He said that preliminary information suggests that damage caused by the fire is in the millions of lari.
The director ruled out the possibility that the fire was started intentionally, which had been widely speculated about.
‘Hey, woman, look — isn’t that the boots you were selling’, one vendor called to another, pointing at some wet, but still intact goods on the ground floor of the centre.
Another woman asked a photographer to zoom in on the building to check if he could see a grey table right next to the entrance.
‘It was my table, I really hope it survived. It is different when you still have hope and something completely different when you let go’, she said, adding that she used to sell silver and gold jewelry.
Most of the vendors in the shopping centre do not have insurance on their businesses, but the building itself was insured by a local insurance company, who is now calculating the losses.
Deputy Mayor Lasha Abashidze told journalists that goods in the building have been completely destroyed and with the vast majority likely not insured.
‘In the future I think we will have to make the decision that owners have insurance for such caseses, to avoid such volumes of loss’, he said, adding that the fire occurred on private property and that the investigation will reveal who is responsible.
But many do not want to wait for the investigation’s results, as they don’t know what to do now that their businesses are gone. They worry about how they will pay their loans and bills and take care of their families. ‘Even if they give us a new space, what am I supposed to sell?’ one vendor told us, ‘this government is useless. “We should wait for the investigation”, thanks, sir, how can I feed myself with the results of an investigation?’ he continued.
Some vendors are holding out hope, as safes in the building where some of them kept jewelry are likely to have survived. The emergency services were notified of the fire at 04:10.