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Paraguay Supermarket Fire Kills at Least 280 - 2004-08-01

A fire swept through a supermarket on the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay on Sunday, killing at least 280 people and injuring dozens of others. The fire started at mid-day Sunday at a suburban Asuncion supermarket where hundreds of people were grocery shopping and lunching at the building's food court.

Officials said the fire was likely sparked by an explosion of gas canisters, either inside the food court or in the building's underground parking lot.

Firefighters worked feverishly, pulling burned and bruised bodies from the smoldering building. An enormous cloud of brown smoke billowed over the market, visible for kilometers.

Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte visited the site, offering support to victims' families. The country's health minister has asked neighboring nations for donations of antibiotics and supplies to help treat burn victims.

Scores of people are holding vigil outside local hospitals, waiting for word on the condition of their loved ones.

Off-duty police and firefighters have been called to the scene, while hospitals have been put on alert, as officials expect the casualty rate to rise.