PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI —
Haiti's iconic Iron Market, a tourist attraction in downtown Port-au-Prince, was ravaged Tuesday by an early-morning fire that spread through the building while many of the vendors, whose merchandise and cash were inside, were participating in the National Carnival celebration.
News of the fire traveled quickly on social media, and videos and photos were posted on Instagram.
It was unclear what sparked the fire, but witnesses told VOA Creole the fire alarm inside the market rang at 3 a.m. When they called the nearest fire station, about a block away, they were told the firetrucks were too low on gas to respond.
WATCH: Anguished Vendors Describe Losses in Port-au-Prince Fire
As a result, firemen from the Carrefour station seven kilometers away were called, but they arrived too late to stop the blaze from burning the entire venue.
Video shot by a VOA Creole reporter showed groups of distressed vendors sobbing as they assessed the damage to their stalls and belongings.
A woman who lost all her merchandise in the fire was inconsolable as she tried to come to terms with reality.
"[I lost] shoes and men's clothes [inside]. ... What am I going to do? Who is going help me?" she wailed.
Two men who came to check their stalls were stunned when they realized all of their merchandise had been destroyed.
"We weren't able to rescue anything," the man told VOA Creole, explaining that he also had money in a cashier's box inside that had been lost in the flames.
"We need for the government to help us because we've lost everything," another man said.
An official assessment of the damage was unavailable Tuesday, a national holiday in Haiti, during which government offices are closed in honor of Mardi Gras.
The Iron Market, or Marche Hyppolite, was opened by President Flovril Hyppolite in 1891. The original structure was built in Paris as a railway station for Cairo, Egypt. When the deal between France and Egypt to buy the structure fell through, Hyppolite offered to buy it. The structure was then shipped from Paris to Port-au-Prince and reconstructed.
Over the past two decades, the Iron Market has seen its share of troubles. It was damaged in 2008 by a fire. Two years later it was leveled by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and left millions homeless.
After the earthquake, Irish billionaire Dennis O'Brien, who owns the private telecommunications network Digicel, donated $12 million to reconstruct the market. The new structure, built to international code with solar panels, reopened in 2011.
The Le Nouvelliste newspaper reported that a Digicel official announced the company would be issuing a statement about the fire.
Raphael Maren Givens in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.