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Iqaluit residents line up as city's largest grocery store reopens after fire

Iqaluit's largest grocery store reopened Saturday, just over a week after an early morning fire burned through part of it for 22 hours.

'It's nice that it's open. I was psyched about it,' says Iqaluit resident at the store's reopening

Shoppers rush inside Northmart, one of two major retailers that sell groceries and merchandise in Nunavut's capital city. A fire destroyed a portion of the grocery store on Nov. 8. (David Gunn/CBC)

Iqaluit's largest grocery store reopened Saturday, just over a week after an early morning fire burned through part of it for 22 hours.

"I've been waiting a long time and I'm actually excited," said Jimmy Koolola, one of the many people who stood in line to get into the store Saturday morning.

No one expected, truth be told, that they'd be able to open so quickly.- Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit

The fire at Northmart in Nunavut's capital was one of a handful of blazes that affected buildings and vehicles in the same area of town, on Nov. 8. A youth was charged with arson and disregard for human life in relation to the Northmart fire.

The store's warehouse — which stored mainly non-perishable food brought up by sealift — crumbled to the ground. The main part of Northmart suffered mostly smoke and water damage.

Since then staff have scrubbed down the store, thrown out most things affected by the fire and restocked.

Because there is no road connection between Iqaluit and southern Canada, all food must be shipped or flown in, and the city has only one other large grocery store to serve its 7,700 residents.

A lineup of people wait outside of Iqaluit's Northmart Saturday morning. It's been over a week since a fire consumed about half of the grocery and merchandise store. (David Gunn/CBC)

"It's nice that it's open. I was psyched about it," said Johnny Sagiatook, inside the grocery store on Saturday. 

Sagiatook helped the water trucks douse the store's fire earlier this month.

"It was pretty brutal, working down here 18 hours," he recalled.

The fire on Nov. 8 started in the store's loading dock and spread to the attic, eventually destroying the warehouse. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Staff worked 24 hours a day

There were lineups at almost every checkout counter as people rushed back to shop Saturday.

The smell of smoke was still lingering in the store, and some general merchandise — labelled as 50 per cent off — had some light soot on it Saturday morning.

We had all kinds of people on their hands and knees.- David Chatyrbok, North West Company

Northmart started restocking its shelves as early as Tuesday, after health and building inspectors examined the store.

"The effort was unbelievable. We had all kinds of people on their hands and knees," said David Chatyrbok, the vice president of major markets for North West Company, which owns the grocery store. 

Chatyrbok explained that staff scrubbed all the shelves, backboards, counters and refrigerators from top to bottom.

"We worked on this store 24 hours a day, non-stop, to make sure we got [it] ready for today." 

Long lineups were at every checkout counter as people rushed back to Iqaluit's largest grocery and merchandise store. (David Gunn/CBC)

Earlier this week, the company said it would not raise prices in the short term to compensate for the loss. Food prices in Nunavut can cost up to three times the national average.

Chatyrbok didn't give any figures on how much the damage will cost the company, but said it was "a tremendous amount of money." 

He said the store brought in all new products, like fresh produce and meat, for the reopening.

"We absolutely started brand-new clean," he said.

Unexpectedly quick recovery, says mayor

"No one expected, truth be told, that they'd be able to open so quickly. [We thought] best case scenario — a month or so," said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern. 

Redfern said all the store's perishable foods were taken to the dump and buried.

She said public health and city officials inspected the store and found it in good shape.

"All indications look pretty solid," Redfern said.

She added she hopes the warehouse will be rebuilt soon.

Ceiling tiles were replaced and air ventilation fans were installed, a Nunavut government spokesperson told CBC. (David Gunn/CBC)

A government of Nunavut spokesperson told CBC in an email that ceiling tiles have been replaced, air scrubbers and ventilation fans were installed, and all surfaces were washed.

It said food, medicine and medical supplies that were potentially exposed to smoke were all disposed.

Ongoing monitoring will continue, the spokesperson said.

With files from Donna McElligott, David Gunn, Nick Murray and Heather Hiscox

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