20200925 warehouse fire
The devastating blaze tore through the warehouse of Ruby Cargo in Umm Ramool on July 6. Image Credit:

Dubai: More than two months after a devastating warehouse blaze gutted their lifetime belongings, scores of Indian expats are still looking for answers. Thousands of cargo boxes destined for India were destroyed in the blaze that engulfed the Umm Rammol warehouse of a moving firm around 2.30pm on July 6.

Most of these boxes contained prized possessions of expats returning to India for good after they were made redundant amid the pandemic.

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Cherished memories

Keralite Alexander John, who lost his job in March, said his cargo included electronics, home appliances, furniture and ornaments worth over Dh155,000. “Then there were things like academic certificates, trophies and personal documents that you can’t put a price tag on,” rued the longtime UAE resident. Another resident, Hariharan Sundaram, who had entrusted the company with 59 boxes, pegged his losses at Dh330,000. “We lived in Dubai for over two decades, so one can well imagine what we might have accumulated over these years. We were hoping to relocate to Bengaluru and start afresh but all my dreams have gone up in smoke. I am still in shock,” he said. Johnson Xavier from Kerala said his cargo contained all his clothes and shoes. “We flew back to India on the repatriation flight carrying just a handbag. If losing the job was not bad enough, we have now also lost all our belongings,” he said.

Johnson Xavier

Johnson Xavier from Kerala said his cargo contained all his clothes and shoes. “We flew back to India on the repatriation flight carrying just a handbag. If losing the job was not bad enough, we have now also lost all our belongings,” he said.

Shilpa Menon

More than material goods, it’s the loss of cherished memories that have hit people the hardest. “We can replace stuff like furniture and home appliances but how do we replace all those memories and sentimental things like my wedding CD and memorabilia collected from our travel to various countries,” said Shilpa Menon from Calicut.

She is not alone in her despair. Mangesh Chapholkar from Mumbai said his wedding album and trophies and certificates won by his sons were destroyed in the fire. Similarly, Santosh Kumar Unnikrishnan, George Mathew Parayil, Kajal Joshi, Ansar Mohammad, Mary Soumya Sebastian and Anuraj Somarajan lost years of family photographs while Johnson Xavier lost pictures from his parents’ burial ceremony.

Cargo
More than material goods, it’s the loss of cherished memories that have hit people the hardest. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Victims said they learnt about the fire a week after the incident. No one was hurt in the blaze. “We got an email from the company on July 13 informing us about the fire and expressing regret for our losses. The email said that the warehouse had been totally destroyed along with “all customers’ packages”. Since then we have been chasing the company for compensation. More than two months on, we are yet to hear back from them,” claimed Abu Dhabi resident Vikraman S.C. whose cargo included a 65” smart TV, refrigerator, seven-seater sofa, computers and coffee maker.

Tharian Mathew, an Abu Dhabi resident for 43 years who left on a repatriation flight on July 1, said, “There has been no response from the company despite several follow-ups.”

The owner of the cargo firm said the cause of the fire was under investigation. Asked whether the customers would get any compensation, he told Gulf News over the phone, “All I can say is that the matter is under police investigation.” He also declined to give the number of people who have been affected. One of the victims said, “There are 77 of us on one WhatsApp group alone.”