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Sisters devastated after fire destroys market

The reality of losing their only business that caters to their everyday needs had just dawned on sisters Sedden Brown and Danielle Bent yesterday as they stood accross the road from where their designer clothing store was located less than 24 hours before.

Brown, 39, could not verbalise her feelings when she watched firemen conducting cooling-down exercises on the spot that once paid her rent, bills, put food on the table, and sent her children to school. One child is in college, another in high school and the other getting ready to start high school in September. Bent is the younger sister who has three small children of her own. She was also unable to process the magnitude of the situation.

The store was caught up in an early morning fire along Cumberland Avenue in the Spanish Town Market district on Wednesday, destroying all their stock. The blaze, which the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) said is of unknown origin, destroyed 10 adjoining stores.

"I am left bare, nothing to fall back on. I leave everything to God," Brown managed to utter while staring at the ruins in disbelief.

"This is everything to me, it is my bread and butter. I have nothing else to take care of my children, buy food and pay the bills. Only God knows how we are going to manage."

Brown said she had just spent $450,000 to renovate the shop a week ago, and all the money she had left went into restocking on Monday.

"We didn't even take the stuff out of the containers they were shipped in. We were planning to do that today (yesterday), but now everything is up in smoke," she said. Brown added that her mother, who also lost everything, is not in good health and is in a state of shock. Bent said the impact from the losses has affected her badly.

"My rent is $65,000 per month plus I have my light bill, water bill to pay, food to buy and take care of my three children. The children are in shock because the shop is where they would hang out after school," she said.

Both sisters acknowledged that they made attempts to insure the business but the insurance company declined their application because the structure was not made of concrete.

"I just hope we can get some help to get back on our feet so we can feed our children and afford to send them to school," Bent said, while staring intensely at what was left of the designer clothing and brand name shoes.

Emeleo Ebanks, the JFB's director of communications, told THE STAR that personnel are still assessing the level of damage each store owner sustained. He said an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire. Preliminary figures put the damage at just over $20 million.