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
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.