Paraguay inferno kills over 280

Officials said an explosion was heard moments before the fire broke out, and one theory being investigated is that gas canisters in a kitchen exploded.

The ensuing blaze gutted a supermarket within the shopping centre – officials said there are concerns the 30-metre-high building could collapse.

Scores of bodies have been recovered from the complex, which also houses offices and a car park.

“We’ve tallied some 300 people injured,” said police spokesman, Santiago Velasco.

Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte visited the scene accompanied by Interior Minister, Orlando Fiorotto.

Witnesses told television crews the centre’s doors had locked because of fears of looting, and that this had hampered people fleeing the flames.

“When they arrived, the police and firemen opened the doors, but it was already too late,” Rosa Resquin, a witness, told reporters.

Complex owner Juan Pio Paiva has surrendered himself to the authorities in the wake of the blaze, but denied that there had been an order to close the doors.

Another fire officer said the blaze, which has been brought under control, likely started in the kitchen of a fast food outlet inside the shopping complex, most likely as a result of leaking gas.

The disaster has stretched the emergency services of one of South America’s poorest nations.

Police were forced to take the injured to hospital in trucks because of a lack of ambulances.

Doctors and emergency workers from the Argentine province of Formosa, on Paraguay’s southern border, have rushed to the site on the outskirts of Asuncion in a bid to boost the number of emergency workers responding to the disaster.

Authorities in the Argentine province also said they would make their hospitals available to victims of the blaze as the Argentine air force readied a plane to speed more aid to Paraguay.

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