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Tuesday 19 January 2016 | Published in Regional


APIA – Thousands of people fear for their livelihoods after a fire burnt down Savalalo market in Samoa.

The popular destination, which is the hub of Samoan made handicrafts, garments and food, was completely gutted by the blaze on Saturday.

The editor of the Samoa Observer, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, said several sources say the fire started in the food hall when a gas bottle exploded, creating a domino effect.

He said the markets is one of the most visited places in Samoa for tourists, and its a big blow for the families who rely on it for income.

“At this stage I don’t have the number of stalls, but I can tell you it’s probably close to a hundred small businesses in there.

“We’re talking about individual families. And there’s thousands of lives depending on this market.

“You’re not just talking about the shops, you’re not just talking about the restaurants in there, you’re talking about the souvenir shops, the guys out in the village who carve the handicrafts for the markets for the tourists, and all that stuff just went up in smoke.”

He said he had spoken to one family who had just restocked their shop with five thousand tala worth of goods, which was all lost in the fire.

The president of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters (SAME), Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, said it’s likely many of the stall owners will have lost all their stock.

He said the loss of the flea market area will have a great impact, as this is the centre of Samoan-made goods and a significant hub for grassroots level businesses.

“Both ornaments, handicrafts, garments, and everything that is made locally it’s the major outlet where they are sold and traded and one that a lot of our people, small and upcoming businesses that’s how they start and where they establish their businesses.”

The Trade Commissioner for Samoa in New Zealand, Fonoti Dr Lafitai lupati Fuatai, said the Savalalo market is a landmark place for the Samoan people.

“People identify with it in terms of what they buy from there. Every time I go to Samoa, that’s the first place I go to when I want to buy t-shirts or lavalavas, or Samoan cricket balls, or fans, you know any other stuff that’s cultural in nature.

“It’s going to be a huge loss in terms of people identifying with a place that’s been around for a long time.”

He said it was not a surprise to hear how quickly the fire spread through the market which is mostly made of wooden structures, and when open was very congested, with a lot of vendors inside.

Fonoti said people from all over Upolu congregate around Savalalo market, and the loss will also be damaging to the national psyche.

“Savalalo market is right there where the bus stops are, that’s the main bus stops in town, so people are going to come there and look at the place which is devastated and they are going to feel at a loss.”

Tagaloa Eddie Wilson said SAME is looking very closely at how the association can assist members affected by the fire.

“Help them to re-establish their businesses and see if there is any way we can help them cope with the loss and also rebuild. As an association we would like to work together to assist these businesses in re-establishing themselves moving forward.”

He said they have about 10 association members affected by the fire, and their members are likely to have insurance.

But Tagaloa said this is probably not the case for smaller business owners.

He said unfortunately small business owners are the vulnerable part of the community and the impact for them will be significant. - Dateline Pacific