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French Quarter residents block main road over lack of security

page10e121~ Nerves frayed after district suffers 13 fires in two months ~

MARIGOT--The main RN7 road just outside French Quarter at Angel's Insurance was blocked for nearly five hours Wednesday morning as residents demanded accountability from authorities over lack of security in the district following a series of 13 fires in the span of less than two months.

Long lines of cars built up as motorists from both directions were forced to turn around.

A phantom arsonist appears to be at work and the fact that no suspects have been positively identified as perpetrators of the crimes has left residents on tenterhooks, wondering who will be the next victim.

Tensions boiled over after a wooden house on Route de La Saline burnt down Tuesday afternoon, destroying three cars and leaving a family of six homeless. The house was located opposite the home of Marcel Glasgow which was featured in the news on September 11 after it sustained a number of small fires which subsequently led to the eviction of the tenant.

The road block commenced on Wednesday at 7:30am instead of 6:00am after heavy rainfall delayed the protest start. Gendarmes were soon on the scene but elected officials arrived two hours later.

"This latest victim is a young lady who has four kids and her brother was also living there with his kids, and they lost everything," disclosed French Quarter District Representative Stephen Patrick, who declined to speculate on who could be responsible. "Our concern is the light manner in which authorities are treating these incidents and not assuming responsibly for securing the district. There's only been a vague or poor attempt to address the issue," he noted.

"Meanwhile those responsible are still at large. 13 of the fires have affected five houses all in the same area. The only reason other houses survived was because they were concrete structures."

"We're saying enough is enough, it has to stop now," he pleaded. "If the government had taken these arsons seriously and put a plan in place, that young lady who lost her home yesterday would still be there. We are not living in Syria or Afghanistan. Residents should not feel they have to stand guard by their house day and night. Citizens have a right to be living in a safe environment," he said.

Commandant Sébastien Manzoni on the scene said suspects were arrested last week but were released after the Prosecutor found no proof to detain them further. The investigation into the fires continues.

Calypso singer Baker Junior whose sister and brother were the latest victims in Tuesday's fire said it was strange that nobody sees or says anything.

"I have to assume it's an evil spirit because normally the people around here see everything that is going on," he said.

"I cannot believe that after what we went through with my brother's house it is still continuing today," commented Daniella Chance Glasgow. "I cannot explain it, but I'm so glad the population came out to take a stand again. Who's next? That's what the population is fearful of. Is it a terrorist act or what? I have never seen this before in St. Martin. An investigation is ongoing but in broad daylight nobody sees anything. What is going on?"

Another resident remarked: "I'm so sorry to see what is happening. We need more security. We need to be at peace because we can't sleep not knowing who will be next."

President of the Chamber of Commerce Jean Arnell who was observing the scene said St. Martiners, as citizens, are not responsible for safety and security.

"Security is the responsibility of the State, that's what we pay taxes for. I understand that French Quarter basically feels isolated and left to fend for itself."

First Vice-President Guillaume Arnell explained he and Vice-Presidents Ramona Connor, Wendel Cocks and Rosette Gumbs-Lake were on the spot Tuesday to assist the family in distress after the fire and re-locate them.

"This problem of the fires is not the Collectivité's responsibility alone," he insisted. "The Gendarmerie has always been involved but all the partners have to get together to solve this. The justice system also has to give an answer to the population."

Arnell, Member of Parliament (MP) Daniel Gibbs, Vice-President Cocks, Chef de Cabinet Emmanuel Effantin from the Préfecture, French Quarter Representative Patrick, and Commandant Manzoni were among the officials holding an emergency meeting as the crowd waited outside for answers.

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