Dozens of merchants milled anxiously in front of a mini-mall in Chinatown on Thursday as they waited to inspect what was left of their stores after an early morning fire caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage.
"There is nothing that is left," said Cindy Nguyen, who burst into tears when firefighters led her back to her brother's business, Vietnam Restaurant, where investigators believe the fire may have started. "Everything is gone."
Officials said the blaze in the two-story Chinatown Plaza on North Broadway began about 5 a.m. Thursday. It took more than 100 firefighters almost three hours to put it out.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Bob Collis said the building, which housed more than 30 shops, suffered about $600,000 in damage and $900,000 in loss of contents.
"About a third of the stores were damaged by fire with the rest damaged by smoke and water," he said, adding that many of the shops sold jewelry.
"Is it all gone?" beauty shop owner Keu Phaunt asked a firefighter who escorted her through the rubble to her store that suffered some water and smoke damage.
Phaunt said many of the merchants had been looking forward to the upcoming Chinese New Year when business is traditionally very good.
"Now I just don't know," she said.
Arson investigators stood talking Thursday with a distraught Nguyen who said the restaurant she ran with her brother Kenny Huynh was not insured.
"They asked me if we had any enemies," she said. "I told them no because we were a small restaurant, and all of our employees are friends of ours."