In Peru, at least 77 people have perished and scores of others were injured in a fire that broke out late Saturday in downtown Lima, after a fireworks explosion. About 400 firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control, about four hours after it started.
An explosion in a shop selling fireworks apparently sparked the fire in a crowded downtown shopping center. One witness told local TV that a vendor was demonstrating fireworks for a possible buyer.
The fire quickly spread, engulfing at least three commercial buildings and two houses, and advanced on Lima's historic center, according to residents. Most of the people killed were trapped in the buildings by the fire. One merchant screamed that people had fled to the roof of his store.
Lima's fire chief called the fire "horrible." He said some 440 firemen were on the scene. Many were hampered getting to the site by traffic jams. Volunteer firemen also experienced the chronic problem in Lima of lack of water and pressure. Frantic residents and police stepped in to haul hoses, and in their desperation, even tried to fill buckets with water.
Burn victims were taken to area hospitals, which have been on alert for such a disaster in Lima, where fireworks are common during Christmas and New Year's celebrations.
Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi, arriving on the scene, said the government was going to have to take firm legal action. He said "because of this, I think, we may have to take drastic measures, and completely prohibit the sale of fireworks, like they do in Colombia."
President Alejandro Toledo cut short a trip out of town, and declared Sunday and Monday days of mourning.
Lima's city center has been declared a Historic District by UNESCO, but has long suffered fireworks blazes in its old colonial buildings.