Tuesday, August 03, 2004

...... I was worried when I heard and saw the TV coverage of the disastrous fire in Asunción. Patrick Butler worked with me at the Mayflower in Canning Town East London some years ago. He was full time with us before going off to qualify in Youth Work and do his stuff around the world. he also used to sing in the Rolling Magazine Show at Greenbelt which I ran for fifteen years. You may remember his famous song 'tesco girl'.
He lives and works in Asunción with Rosie and their children. I have just had confirmation he is ok ........... not so for many others ..........

He writes ......
" .........you may have heard on the news of the supermarket fire in Asunción at lunchtime (Sunday) that has to date claimed 346 lives with around 450 injured. The country is in shock and no one can recall a disaster on this scale in recent decades.

The supermarket (about a mile and a half from our house) was engulfed in flames when gas tanks in the kitchens of the food court exploded. It seems that security guards immediately closed the doors (as is common practise in power cuts to avoid looting), thus creating a death trap. The voluntary fire service quickly came to the scene but it was soon clear that the emergency services and hospitals had neither the experience nor resources for dealing with a disaster of this scale. Soon after it happened I was taking Jess to a birthday party and saw police trucks with badly burned victims lying in the back rush by, as there were not enough ambulances available.

Over the past 24 hours the public have been buying and donating basic medical supplies from chemists and delivering them to the various hospitals, but it is equipment such as respirators that are lacking, thus many more are dying in hospitals. Neighbouring Latin countries are flying in doctors and medical equipment and helping in any way they can. Today was a national day of morning and the city schools were turned into collection points for medical supplies.

In a country of only 6 million and a capital city of a million, a disaster of this size means that almost everyone knows someone involved. One of the teachers we know at our school is in a serious condition and a pupil from the annexe school (also Anglican) was killed along with most of her family.

The disaster highlights the lack of fire regulations in public buildings, the lack of any procedure and coordination between the emergency services and the army (also involved), the limitations of a poorly equipped, voluntary fire service (who did their very best in the circumstances), and the corruption that inevitably translates into a desperate shortage of any sort of medical infrastructure for dealing with something of this nature. A lack of any sort of media restrictions means that images of charred bodies have filled our screens for the past 24 hours with around 20 bodies yet to be identified. As it is law for bodies to be buried within 24 hours last night was a night of wakes and today a day of funerals.

It is hard to know what to ask you to pray but we wanted to send something out to those who support and pray for us so that you would remember the country, and ourselves in your prayers.

With love,

Patrick and Rosie"