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Shopping complex fire inflicts tragedy on Vietnamese community in Poland

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Nguyen Van Son struggled to hold back tears as he stood outside the vast burnt carcass of a shopping complex that was engulfed in flames three days earlier in Warsaw.

The 42-year-old Vietnamese trader had his entire livelihood inside — unsold clothing in three shops, equipment in two nail salons and a large sum of cash in his office. All, he presumes, consumed in the fire that broke out before dawn on Sunday and spread fast.

The fire destroyed the Marywilska 44 shopping center, home to some 1,400 shops or services in an industrial area on Warsaw’s northern edge. Hundreds of the businesses there were run by people from Vietnam.

“It all burned, I don’t have money in my pocket,” Nguyen, who moved to Poland from Vietnam 18 years ago, said on Wednesday outside the burnt structure. He estimated his loss at 2 million Polish zlotys ($500,000).

“I don’t have work now,” he added. “I don’t know how my life will go on.”

An association of Vietnamese entrepreneurs described the blaze as a “terrible tragedy” for the Vietnamese community in Poland. The community represents the largest non-European immigrant population in Poland. The Vietnam Embassy in Warsaw told The Associated Press that it estimates the population at between 20,000 and 30,000.

People gathered at the wreck of the shopping complex Wednesday described losing passports and other important documents in the flames in addition to huge sums of cash. They said they felt it was safer to keep them in their place of work, where they spent the majority of their time, and not their private homes due to a fear of break-ins. One woman said she and others faced obstacles opening bank accounts. Many of those affected did not want to be interviewed, or were not able