Home>News Center>World

Paraguay market owner charged as fire toll hits 409
Updated: 2004-08-04 08:39

The owner of a Paraguayan supermarket destroyed by fire was jailed along with three security guards on manslaughter charges on Tuesday as the death toll from Sunday's inferno hit 409 amid reports that the building's exits had been locked.

Criminal judge Pedro Dario Portillo said the investigation into the blaze, the worst disaster here in decades, would take about four months. Under Paraguayan law, the charges will then either be confirmed or dropped. If convicted, the accused face up to 15 years in prison.

Juan Pio Paiva, left co-owner of Ycua Bolanos Supermarket, walks into the Justice Palace, escorted by a police officer,right, in Asuncion, Paraguay on Tuesday, August 3, 2004. Paiva is under investigation after a security guard told investigators he received orders to lock the building's doors just after the blaze began to prevent theft, officials said. [AP]

Officials said a guard told them he was ordered to lock exits of the Ycua Bolanos market during the fire, apparently to stop people from leaving without paying for merchandise, and survivors said they found doors locked as they fled the blaze.

Supermarket owner Juan Pio Paiva, who had been in police custody before being jailed on Tuesday, has denied that the doors were ordered shut. Security guards Ever Sanchez, Ismael Alcaraz and Jorge Penayo were also charged and jailed.

The state prosecutor's office said another 130 people were reported missing in Sunday's fire and 454 people were injured. An even higher death toll was reported earlier Tuesday, but some names were found to be repeated.

Juan Pio Paiva (R), co-owner of the Ycua Bolano supermarket, stands with his son Victor Daniel Paiva (L), in the entrance to the district attorney's office in Asuncion, August 2, 2004. [Reuters]

The main cemetery in this normally sleepy capital prepared collective graves to hold whole families who died together within minutes. The government sent extra supplies of cement and bricks to meet the demand for graves.

Officials said a gas explosion near the food court caused the blaze that swept through the packed supermarket in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital that was packed with Sunday shoppers.

"Early evidence suggests that it was a regrettable accident made worse by a later decision to close up the building. This caused the catastrophic consequences," Vice President Luis Castiglioni told reporters.

Many survivors said the doors were locked, and in one case welded shut. State prosecutor Edgar Sanchez said one of the guards had said he received orders to close the doors but did not know who had given them.

"The guard ... said in his statement that he received the order by radio to close the doors and this he did," Sanchez said.


Everyone in this city of 500,000 seemed to know a victim. In one suburb near the supermarket, local radio said there were up to three wakes in each city block.

"For the last three days I have been searching for my mother among the bodies," said Carlos Montiel, 29, weeping as he talked in front of the wrecked supermarket.

"We saw corpses stuck to each other. They made us enter a refrigerated truck where the bodies were in black bags. It's killing me."

The charred remains were so difficult to identify that one man held a wake for a corpse he mistakenly thought was his son. Authorities later told him he had the wrong body.

Official asked that relatives hand in dental records of their disappeared families to help identification. A team of Brazilian forensic scientists arrived in Paraguay to help identify bodies.

Firefighters have not finished sifting through the wreckage of the supermarket, meaning that more bodies could be found.

Paraguay, a country of 6 million, called the fire its worst tragedy since a 1930s war with Bolivia that killed thousands.

  Today's Top News     Top World News

Measures go online to protect surfers



President Hu to US: Keep promises on Taiwan



East-west gas pipeline wrapped up



Toxic bombs confirmed as Japan's ammo



Medical team heads for Tibet



Pilot stores for Olympic products to start


  US soldiers abused Iraqis 'for fun,' court told
  Paraguay market owner charged as fire toll hits 409
  Insurgents in Iraq kill 7 Iraqis, 4 US troops
  Pakistan arrests five Qaeda, militant suspects
  Statue of Liberty reopens her pedestal
  Iraq jail chief says prisoner abuse covered up
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Related Stories  
Paraguay inferno survivors: Doors were shut
311 killed in Paraguay supermarket fire
At least 283 die in Paraguay market fire
  News Talk  
  How Kerry Can Beat Bush