Fire Tragedy in Paraguay - August 2004

On August 1, 2004, a fire broke out in a supermarket in Asunción, Paraguay when the store was full of weekend customers. Official sources from the Justice Department and the Ministry of Health reported that 378 people died at the scene due to inhalation of toxic gases and burns. There were also about 300 injured, that were treated at the main hospitals in Asunción.
 

Situation Report
3 August 2004


Authorities have confirmed that 378 people died, 43 are still disappeared and there are 19 unidentified bodies. Contrary to reports that 500 people were being treated at different hospitals, this number has been reduced to 298. Most of the people are being treated for smoke inhalation, although there is a significant number of burned people as well.

Refrigerator trucks have been used to transport bodies for identification and delivery to their families as soon as possible.

The offers of other countries to provide doctors are starting to complicate the situation a little. The country authorities have informed that they have enough human resources to treat the injured, therefore there is no need for international medical personnel.

The Ministry of Health has formed three commissions: (a) information, (b) supplies, and (c) services; and has organized a warehouse in the Ministry’s auditorium for the reception of donations. Three computers have been installed and workers are being trained in the SUMA system. The government’s main priority is to have transparency throughout the process, and so the SUMA system is going to be very useful.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published in its website: www.mre.gov.py/ the official list of urgently needed supplies, which also includes the medicines requested.

International assistance and identified needs

PAHO/WHO’s local office, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, the U.N. System and other national and regional agencies, is providing permanent assistance to the response activities.

The U.N. Emergency Committee meets twice a day.

There has not been an official request for foreign experts to help in mental health activities and those affected with post-traumatic stress disorder, or with the identification of the bodies. There have been many offers from neighboring countries, and it is imperative that these actions are coordinated with the Ministry of Health to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.

Although the first needs were covered with local resources, neighboring countries have shown their solidarity by sending support.

  • Brazil is sending 30 respirators that are still needed.
  • An Argentinean SUMA expert arrived thanks to the coordination done between UNDP, PAHO/WHO, and the National Emergency Committee.
  • In the first hours after the disaster, Uruguay sent a health team to help in treating the burned patients
  • Chile sent an Air Force Hercules airplane with medical personnel including doctors, nurses, technicians, etc., and a field hospital and all the necessary equipment for its continuing operation.


PAHO’s Disaster Subregional Advisor is in Asuncion, and PAHO is in the process of identifying other experts that can be of use in the logistic and information management of the supplies.

 

Preliminary Report
2 August 2004


On Sunday, August 1, a fire broke out in a supermarket in Asunción, Paraguay. It occurred at 11:25, when the store was full of weekend customers. According to preliminary reports from firemen at the scene, there was a gas explosion at the kitchen which propagated to the food storage and destroyed two floors, including the parking garage. Forty-five minutes later, there was a second explosion, reportedly from a car in the parking garage. Panic erupted among the shoppers as soon as the first explosion was felt, but many were trapped because, according to some survivors, the glass doors were closed. The massive 12,000 sq. mt. structure, made of brick and cement was engulfed in flames when the first fire department contingent and police forces arrived.

Official sources from the Justice Department and the Ministry of Health report that 305 people died at the scene due to inhalation of toxic gases and burns. Approximately half of them have been identified and handed over to their families. There were also about 300 injured (this number could change as official information is made available), that are being treated at the main hospitals in Asunción. Most of them are suffering from smoke inhalation and burns of different degrees.

The most urgent needs have already been covered by assistance provided locally and from neighboring countries. Health authorities have informed that there is a need for respirators; other special needs will be identified to make a formal request. The situation is under control.

PAHO/WHO’s Office in Brazil, through its Representative is working closely with the Ministry of Health at the national level and in close contact with the border state of Parana. Similar work is being carried out by the PAHO/WHO Representatives in Argentina and Chile.

Brazil has informed of the donation of respirators, which are being sent by order of the President. Chile is sending a plane with a field hospital, medical supplies and a team of doctors and nurses specialized in the treatment of burned patients. PAHO/WHO is helping the U.N. Coordinating Office with the mobilization of a SUMA expert to help Paraguayan authorities in the identification of the health supplies that have been received.

PAHO/WHO has also mobilized four international professionals who were already in the country; among them emergency services and hospital management specialists. The PAHO/WHO’s Office in Paraguay is working closely with the Ministry of Health, the National Disaster Coordination Office and the U.N. local office in Asunción.

Link to:

ReliefWeb

PAHO Subregional Disaster Office for South America (in Spanish only)