A DAWN fire gutted a shop at Eriku in Lae, Morobe, yesterday as hundreds of opportunists ransacked adjacent shops and took off with thousands of kina worth of goods.
The fire, which started at about 5.30am, razed through Lotus Enterprise and, by 6am, hundreds of people, mainly looters from the nearby settlements of Boundary Road, Buimo, the Miles and Kamkumung, had gathered.
Outnumbered police and security guards fired teargas into the air to get the pressing crowd away from the shops’ front, all in vain eventually.
It was not long before the looters broke their way into the two neighbouring shops, PC Woo and Raumai 18, and, in the process, reportedly raping a woman shop assistant.
Members of the fire brigade, who are about a kilometre away, arrived more than a hour later after flames had engulfed the building and could do very little to save anything.
Lae’s iconic trading companies PC Woo, Papindo, Pelgens and Andersons are all on the same block, adjacent to each other.
More onlookers and opportunists arrived at Eriku as soon as the PMVs began operating at 6.30am.
Looters were seen carrying knife wounds and other injuries apparently suffered while breaking into the shops to ransack them.
All manner of goods, from cartons of tinned foods, bags of rice, frozen goods, household electrical goods, white goods and clothing accessories to cartons of beer, were removed.
Eriku’s surrounding streets were dotted with people unabashedly scurrying to get home with their stolen cargo.
Although Guard Dog and Pacific Corporate Security guards were outnumbered at the other shops, they bravely prevented the looters from entering Papindo, Pelgens and Andersons supermarkets.
Crowds of men were also dispersed by police mid-morning at shops near the main market, Voco Point and Top Town, with the morning melee at Eriku forcing many businesses and schools to close for the day.
By dusk yesterday, the threat of more shop break-ins at Eriku was imminent with hundreds of men still milling about belligerently.
Many workers, who would have caught public transport through the Eriku bus stop, had to demand employers to drop them off at home out of fear.
Soldiers from Igam Barracks had to drive into town, armed in a troop carrier, to take their children and spouses home last night.