Tragedy in Asunción

I was told by Rev. S. that I should show up in church services a little bit more frequently, so I stayed there after teaching Sunday School. The service was the usual glitzy show of drum, amplifiers, high volume and low quality and spirituality. After enduring it, I called my wife and she asked me to stop by the supermarket on my way back home. While riding of the bus, I saw a fire truck with all the sirens going on madly, and I thought it was just another fire.

While in the supermarket, I saw people crowded on the TV sets on sale there. Apparently, there was some breaking news that warranted that the TV networks stop their usual Sunday programming. I went nearer the TV sets to see what was happening, and I saw that there was a huge fire somewhere. Ok, I thought. I’ll check it out at home. After my shopping, I walked home and turned on the TV, and I just began to realize the magnitude of what happened.

All out of a sudden, a loud explosion was heard inside one of the supermarkets of the Ykua Bolaños chain, and all hell broke loose, People stampeding trying to get out; many dead by fire; and many trapped, who died shortly thereafter after the roof crashed.

The death count, as I am writing this, is over 300, including at least one pregnant women, a baby and several children. Many of the deceased are unidentified. The injured are just too many, and like the dead, many of them are unidentified, their features burned beyond recognition. There are still bodies to be retrieved from the supermarket, but there are also fears that the whole structure would collapse any time soon.

Several hospitals of the Asunción were converted into makeshift triage posts, helping as much as they can. They are literally flooded with patients and hospital beds are scarce now. The scenes showed by TV were simply harrowing and gut-wrenching.

As for other details, well, there were simply too many things that went wrong. There are strong, substantial allegations that once news of the fires reached the owner of the chain, a Mr. Paiva, ordered the gates closed “to prevent looting”, thus trapping many people. The fire alarm did not have a battery backup power supply, so it couldn’t go live when the power was cut. The roof collapsed suspiciously too soon.

And I pray I might be wrong on this regard, but it was the most crowded time in a supermarket: the Sunday noon, when people go there to buy groceries and ready-made food, and eat at the annexed eatery, so I suspect a bombing or sabotage. (Update: Apparently it was due to a gas leak.)

President Nicanor Duarte ordered a two-day national mourning period with no activities. Tomorrow is also a day off from classes in all schools.

Please pray for all the victims and their families. Thanks to our Lord, I am able to confirm that all of our families (my wife’s and mine) are safe and sound. I just spoke with Rev. S. by phone and he confirmed that so far no one in neither our Baptist School nor Church was harmed; but everyone here is shaken.

Additional coverage from the AP is available here.

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