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Authorities in Paraguay Investigate Cause of Deadly Fire - 2004-08-02


Recovery efforts are continuing in Paraguay after a fire in the capital on Sunday killed nearly 300 people.

As Paraguay begins a three-day mourning period, the owners of the Asuncion supermarket that erupted in flames sit in jail, awaiting questions about whether they ordered the doors of the building locked to deter shoplifting and looting.

The three owners deny the charges, but eyewitnesses claim that some exits had been locked and welded shut, trapping hundreds of people inside the burning building.

The fire started at mid-day Sunday after gas canisters exploded inside the three-story supermarket that was filled with shoppers and diners. An investigation into what caused the explosion and the allegations of locked emergency exits is under way.

Aid workers from neighboring Argentina and Brazil have arrived to help alleviate the strain on Paraguay's emergency service workers. Countries from around the world have sent their condolences to President Nicanor Duarte and offered to provide medicine and supplies to the poor South American nation.

Hospitals in the capital are working at full capacity, as they cope to deal with the hundreds of people suffering from burns. Nearby schools, churches and a discotheque are being used as makeshift morgues.

Funerals have already been held for some of the victims. Officials say several more days will be needed to identify bodies found in rubble, but many of the victims were burned beyond recognition in the deadliest fire in Paraguay's history.

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