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Paraguayan Supermarket Fire Kills 364

02 August 2004

Paraguay suffered its worst disaster in decades on Aug. 1 when at least 364 people died in a massive fire at a crowded supermarket in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital, Asunción.

The fire is believed to have started around midday, near the food court of the Ycua Bolaños centre, which was packed with hundreds of families doing their regular Sunday shopping.

When people tried to escape they found that the exit doors had been locked and in one case welded shut, apparently to prevent shoppers from fleeing without paying. Firefighters found the main doors shut when they arrived.

Among the dead were entire families. In addition to the 364 who died, the Ministry of Health said 256 people were admitted to hospital. President Nicanor Duarte declared three days of national mourning.

The magnitude of the disaster overwhelmed the country's capacity to respond. Paraguay does not experience many emergencies, and hospitals struggled to cope with the influx of wounded and rescue organizations were unable to coordinate effectively.

The governments of neighboring countries have sent aid in the form of medicines, bandages and human resources.


From the first moment, the Paraguayan Red Cross helped to transfer the injured to hospital and afterwards transported corpses to a nearby temporary morgue. More than 100 Red Cross volunteers participated in these actions.


"Despite all the chaos, what has emerged is the great solidarity of the Paraguayan people, for whom this has been a new experience, since Paraguay has never before experienced of this magnitude," said Huberto Battioni, head of relief of the Paraguayan Red Cross.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Red Cross has sent a psychological support team to Paraguay to help the victims and their families through this tragedy. The Spanish team has had recent experience of a similar tragedy, helping people overcome the trauma of the bomb attacks on the Madrid railway in March 2004.

 
 
 
   
 
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