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Peru Market Fire Kills 60 People

December 30, 2001

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LIMA, Peru (AP) _ A cache of fireworks exploded Saturday night in downtown Lima, spreading a fire through a street market and two blocks of apartments and stores. The city fire chief said at least 60 people were killed.

The initial blast ripped through a shop selling fireworks at about 8 p.m., Lima Fire Chief Tulio Nicolini said. Flames rushed through the three- and four-story buildings as firefighters and volunteers dragged people from the burning structures.

Nicolini said at least 60 people were killed, and a hospital near the burned-out area reported that it was treating 35 people with severe burns.

``Dozens of people have died,″ said Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi. He said the victims included shopkeepers who shut themselves inside their stores to deter looters.

Efforts to fight the blaze were hindered at first by low water pressure and crowds of people drawn by the flames, which initially blocked fire trucks.

Tulio said 440 firefighters were called in from several districts to fight the blaze, about four blocks from Peru’s Congress in the historic downtown section of Lima.

Officials cut electricity to the area to limit the possibility of short circuits adding to the fire, and firefighters used portable generators to power floodlights trained on the blaze.

Twenty municipal water trucks were sent to the scene to support the firefighters. Streets in the area were ankle deep with water and long plumes of smoke rose into the night sky.

Police blocked the site to keep out looters. The fire broke out in an area of aging buildings, some of them from the colonial era, used as shops and apartments.

President Alejandro Toledo cut short a trip to the north of Peru to return to the capital. He declared Sunday and Monday national days of mourning.

Fireworks are popular in Peru during Christmas and New Year celebrations and are sold on streets through the capital during the season. Rospigliosi said the sale of fireworks should be banned in Peru.

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