August 02, 2004

Paraguay: Rolling into a mourning city

I crossed into Paraguay last thursday leaving behind Brazil and passing through the 10km gauntlet of Ciudad del Este (see french entry). With me was Ryan who I had organized to meet again at Iguazu waterfalls and Christian a Brazilian that I had also met at the waterfalls who is cycling to Chile. We had a excellent 324km of riding together with a few little adventures along the way. However everything seems to pale in comparison with the news that greeted us upon our arrival in Ascuncion. This sunday afternoon a fire broke out in the kitchen area of a large shopping mall/supermarket in a suburb of the city. There were more than 2500 people in the building when the fire broke out. As of this morning there are already more than 300 reported dead, and all the hospitals are completely full and overwhelmed. The president has declared three days of mourning and everyone we meet is in shock as inevitably in a city of just over a million people everybody has a friend or a relative who died in the blaze. Compounding peoples grief into anger is reports from a few survivors that the manager of the building ordered the doors closed to prevent looting when the fire started.

On the way to the city we had noticed all the volunteer fire trucks and ambulances coming from the countryside to the city, but at the time did not know why. Now I am completely deflated by the even, both because it happened so close and because I feel like there is very little I can do.
But I do know that the Paraguayan fire department is entirely run by volunteers because we spent one night in the fire hall in Caaguazł. We relatively sleepless friday night because it was the night they were organizing a big fundraising party.

You can read more at these websites:

http://www.ultimahora.com.py/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040802.wpara0802/BNStory/International/

For the moment I am happy to be safe and I will prepare to keep moving in the next few days.

Posted by gwendal at August 2, 2004 10:06 AM
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