A late Saturday night fire gutted leather products, raw materials and machines estimated at over N3 billion in Aba, Abia State.
The fire affected over 30 shops at the Mansion Zone block of the Powerline Leather Products Industrial Cluster.
The chairman of the affected block in the industrial cluster, Ugochukwu Nwachukwu, told journalists on Sunday that more than 500 workers were working in the affected shops.
Mr Nwanchukwu said though the Abia Fire Service arrived from Umuahia about an hour after the fire started, their efforts helped to douse the inferno.
Cherechi Ndukwe, a victim, said he rushed to the scene after a call about the incident.
“We made frantic but unsuccessful efforts to douse the inferno with buckets of water before the arrival of the men of Abia Fire Service from Umuahia.
“The fire service men arrived some minutes past 11:00 p.m. to help us douse the raging fire,” he added.
Mr Ndukwe appealed for immediate help to the affected victims, as the incident jeopardised their businesses, families, and employees.
Another victim, Nnenna Onyedikachi, said the fire had destroyed all they had invested in the business.
A former chairman of the Omenka Shoemakers Association, Powerline Zone, Goodluck Mmeri, expressed disgust that miscreants capitalised on the situation to steal some of the materials and machines.
Also, Okechukwu Williams, the president of the Leather Product Manufacturers Association in Abia, lamented the traders’ huge losses in the face of the harsh economic situation.
He regretted that the state government was yet to re-establish a fire service outpost at Ariaria International Market to handle fire incidents.
Mr Williams pleaded with Governor Alex Otti to restore the fire service outpost to ensure prompt response to any fire incident in and around the market.