Four People Missing in Fire in Downtown Lima

Firefighters from a ladder and the ground try to put out the Las Malvinas fire from the back of the building, while other fire companies battled the flames from the other side. Photo: Andina

Four people are still missing, more than 48 hours after a fire raged through a building of sweatshops and industrial warehouses in downtown Lima.  At least 18 people were injured, including two firemen who are now hospitalized.

The fire was reported Thursday morning and spread quickly through a three-story building that has up to four additional stories on the roof, made of metal structures the size of shipping containers.

It took close to 24 hours before more than 400 firefighters were able to contain the fire, and on Saturday morning the building continued to smolder.  The fire department has declared the building unsafe, with a risk of collapse.

Three of the people reported missing —  Jovi Herrera, 21, Jorge Huaman, 19, and Luis Guzman, 15 —were working inside one of the metal structures, where relatives say they were locked in during their work shift.  They worked six hours a day, Monday through Sunday, for 100 soles a week ($30), less than half the legal minimum wage.  Herrera became a father three weeks ago, and had plans to save up enough to open his own shop in the commercial center.  The fourth person missing is Isabel Pantoja, 41, who worked in a ground floor cebiche restaurant.

President Kuczynski described the situation as “inadmissible.”  “They had workers as slaves. That is a crime,” he said at the scene.

The blame for the fire and the working conditions is being spread widely, to the Lima Municipal government, the Civil Defense office, the labor supervision department of the Ministry of Labor, and the entrepreneurs using the facilities.  The president of the first floor of shop operators in the building, Hugo Sullca, has begun to receive death threats.

Google Maps proof: Diario Correo published these photos showing the burned building,without the added metal structures, and then at the time of this week’s fire, both taken since Luis Castañeda became mayor of Lima.

Mayor Luis Castañeda, whose poll numbers are the lowest ever in his political career, blamed the irregular metal structures on his predecessor but stall owners say these were only erected on the roof in the past year and a half, and critics were quick to use Google Maps to prove him wrong.

The building is in a commercial area known as Las Malvinas, of hardware stores and electrical shops as well as vendors of recycled mobile phones.  The area has developed over the past decade on land once occupied by some of the country’s leading factories, and Italian, Russian and Asian investors have invested in this booming real estate area to build new commercial centers that are then leased out to smaller entrepreneurs.  The building where the fire broke out occupies a full corner and is almost a block long. It is operated by Inversiones JPEG SAC.

One small business owner, Roxana Fiesta, told AmericaTV that not only had JPEG blocked a skylight and an emergency exit but that workers in one section had begun to work on soldering metal structures.  A fire had broken out just the day before, which was when the fire extinguishers had all been used.  The rest of the building was used to store hardware, including paints and other chemical products.

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