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Peru Begins to Bury 274 Fire Victims

January 03, 2002|From Associated Press

LIMA, Peru — Dozens of coffins were stacked up outside Lima's morgue Wednesday as officials began to bury victims of Saturday's huge fire, even though many have not been identified.

Authorities said 274 people died in the blaze, down from the earlier official count of 290. Of those, 210 were burned beyond recognition, along with their driver's licenses and other forms of identification.

They will be buried in graves marked by a number and the inscription "NN," meaning unidentified, said Doris Sanchez, the Cabinet minister in charge of women's issues.

The blaze erupted Saturday night in a downtown Lima district packed with holiday shoppers and sidewalk vendors. Officials believe a large firecracker, lit on a street, ignited dozens of nearby fireworks stands.

The blaze destroyed four blocks of tenements and shopping galleries in less than five minutes.

Peruvians use fireworks to celebrate not only New Year's and Christmas but a host of other holidays and festivals.

Sanchez said the burials were being expedited because the morgue did not have enough refrigerated chambers to hold all the bodies. Workers put on masks Wednesday as they wheeled coffins to hearses.

The government has said it will use DNA analysis to identify all the bodies, a process that could take a few months. Records from dental care, a luxury in Peru, were not available for most of the victims.

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