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Inferno aftermath lures onlookers

Droves of residents headed to HWP to see the devastation yesterday as the remnants of the fire-ravaged building were torn down.

Residents ignored police advice to stay away and descended on St John’s Road in Pembroke to see the scene that everyone was talking about.

Traffic built up as motorists slowed down to point, stare and take photos of the shell of the building surrounded by burnt-out cars. Some motorists simply stopped their vehicles in the middle of the road.

Cars, trucks, taxis and bikes also pulled over on the side of the road to get a better look at the wreckage, which was still smouldering.

Comments such as: “It’s bad”; “It’s a lot worse than I thought”; and “This is going to cost a fortune” could be frequently heard as onlookers chatted to each other about the damage.

The blaze started in the body and paint centre at about 2pm on Monday, before quickly ripping through the car showroom. There were flames up to 35ft and the huge cloud of black smoke could be seen as far as Flatts Village.

All 115 HWP staff got out safely and up to 60 firefighters took about three hours to contain the fire.

Residents who visited in the morning saw all that remained of the collapsed building was the blue and white frontage, with its HWP Group Body and Parts Centre lettering.

All the windows of the car showroom had been blown out and the shells of about eight new cars sat in two rows at the front of the showroom.

A further six burnt-out cars could be seen on the road on the east side of the building. This is where cars waiting to be worked on were parked.

In front of the building sat eight vehicles, including a truck and a taxi, which escaped damage in the fire and the owners were seen to pick up these vehicles from about 10am.

By midmorning Belco workers were using a hydraulic lift to check the power lines and then at about 1pm two bulldozers moved in. This meant there was soon little more than a huge pile of rubble to look at.

It took several hours for the bulldozers to crush the building, starting in the western corner and moving east. They worked slowly to ensure the rubble did not fall on and damage the Skoda building.

As bulldozing began, the entire first floor collapsed and workers also had to deal with several flare-ups as flames shot out from the rubble.

The bulldozers could be seen tearing apart a ground-floor office, complete with desk and filing cabinets, with HWP bosses instructing the work to stop when recognisable items were spotted. Trash bags and cardboard boxes were filled with paperwork and invoices, and an intact silver framed photo was also unearthed from the rubble.

Senior bosses at Island Construction lead the demolition process wearing hard hats and fluorescent vests. In the hot seat of one bulldozer was Allen DeSilva, a partner of Island Construction and brother of Health Minister Zane DeSilva. At one point he said to the crowd: “It’s going well, nothing to worry about”.

Up to 30 people, including HWP workers, stood on the gas station forecourt to watch the demolition process, covering their eyes as huge clouds of dust wafted their way. Two police officers wearing face masks stood on guard.

Teacher Melissa Field was one of the lucky ones who turned up to collect an undamaged car from HWP yesterday, then said: “It doesn’t even smell of smoke”.

Ms Field’s Volkswagen Beetle was untouched by the fire as it was parked in front of the building as its broken window had already been repaired.

Ms Field said: “My first thought wasn’t my car it was whether everyone had managed to get out safely.

“But I was relieved to get the message saying my car was okay.

“Coming here today I’m shocked at how bad the fire was, I had no idea”.

Damon Robins said he got a frantic call from his sister, who is overseas for a month, asking if he’d picked up her new car from HWP. He had picked it up last week but had forgotten to tell his sister.

He said: “The car’s safely at home, but she didn’t know that. She had heard about what had happened and there was panic in her voice”.

Mr Robins said he wanted to visit the scene to take photos and video footage for overseas relatives who he said were “shocked and asking questions”.

He said: “Everyone is heading down here today to have a look and take pictures. They all want to get their mementos, we just can’t resist.

“Although it’s bad, real bad, this is probably the most excitement we’ve all had since Cup Match”.

Mr Robins also questioned why the paint and body shop had been so close to the salesroom when the Island’s other dealerships separated the two sections. He said: “This is going to cost millions of dollars, but maybe it could have been avoided”.

Joseph Butterfield said: “It’s just so out-of-the-ordinary to see anything like this in Bermuda, it’s devastating that this can actually happen”.

Stephen Beek added: “Looking at this mess I just feel sorry for the employees who may now be out of work.

“It’s a lot worse than I thought, the building and the cars are just completely burned, it’s a travesty”.

The HWP Garage and show room on St Johns Road lays a crumpled burnt and tangled mess after a masive fire that that totaly destroyed the building on Monday ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )

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Published August 10, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 10, 2011 at 9:04 am)

Inferno aftermath lures onlookers

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