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Basement Fire Prompts Evacuation at Century 21

By  Noelani Montero and Jeanmarie Evelly | July 2, 2013 10:33pm 

 Customers say their shopping sprees were interrupted by a fire in the subbasement of the downtown store.
Fire Forces Evacuation at Century 21
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DOWNTOWN — A fire that broke out in the basement of Century 21 Tuesday afternoon prompted a temporary evacuation of the downtown department store, witnesses and FDNY officials said.

The smoky blaze broke out at 22 Cortlandt St. inside a freight elevator in the store's sub-basement just after 2:30 p.m., the FDNY and a store employee said.

No one was injured in the fire, which FDNY said was under control within about an hour — though several customers said their shopping sprees were interrupted by the blaze.

Maria Zoumarar, 37, of SoHo, said she was shopping when an alarm went off in the store. An announcement over the intercom told shoppers not to panic but told everyone to drop what they were doing and head towards an exit on Church Street.

"I think the employees didn’t know what to do either," she said, describing the scene as chaotic.

"The escalators were so full that you couldn’t get onto them," said Fiona Eaglen, a U.K. resident visiting the city on vacation who was shopping with her husband when they were told to exit the store.

The couple said they were forced to drop their shopping basket of Michael Kors' clothes and Vivienne Westwood dresses and evacuate.

They and dozens of other shoppers waited outside on the sidewalk for an hour until the shop re-opened its doors at 5 p.m. — to cheers and clapping from the crowd.

"It's frustrating," Robert Eaglen said before going back inside. "We spent about two hours and now we’ve got to start again."