A BLAZE that tore through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil in the early hours yesterday, killing more than 230 people as party-goers stampeded towards the exits, may have been started by a flare or firework lit by band members.
Police Major Cleberson Braida Bastianello said officials counted 232 bodies brought for identification to a gymnasium in the city of Santa Maria, at the southern tip of Brazil.
Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub, as shirtless partygoers joined firefighters in wielding axes and sledgehammers, pounding at windows and walls to break through to those trapped inside.
Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately trying to find help. Others carried injured friends away in their arms.
Michele Pereira, a survivor, said she was near the stage and the fire broke out after members of the band lit flares.
“The band onstage began to use flares – and suddenly they stopped the show and pointed them upwards. At that point the ceiling caught fire.
“It [the fire] was really weak, but in a matter of seconds it spread,” Ms Pereira said.
Another survivor, Luana Santos Silva, added: “There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic and it took a long time for people to get out.
“There were so many dead.”
Ms Silva said firefighters and ambulances responded quickly after the fire broke out, but it spread too fast inside the packed club for them to help.
Most of the dead suffocated, according to Dr Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a professor at the medical school of the Federal University of Santa Maria, who raced to the Caridade Hospital.
He said survivors, police and firefighters told him a flare fired by a band member set the
ceiling’s soundproofing ablaze.
“Large amounts of toxic smoke quickly filled the room, and I would say that at least 90 per cent of the victims died of asphyxiation,” Dr Beltrame said.
“The toxic smoke made people lose their sense of direction, so they were unable to find the exit. At least 50 bodies were found inside a bathroom. Apparently, they confused the bathroom door with the exit door.
“In the hospital, I saw desperate friends and relatives walking and running down the corridors looking for information. It was one of the saddest scenes I have ever witnessed,” he added.
Rodrigo Moura, a security guard at the club, said it was at its maximum capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000, and partygoers were pushing and shoving.
Dr Beltrame also said he was told the club was filled far past its capacity during a party for students.
The event featured a group called Gurizada Fandangueira, which plays a driving mixture of local Brazilian country music styles. It was not immediately clear if the band members were among the victims.
The fire led President Dilma Roussef to cancel a series of meetings at a summit of Latin American and European leaders in Santiago, Chile.
She arrived in Santa Maria last night to visit the injured.
“It is a tragedy for all of us,” she said.
Santa Maria is a major university city with a population of a quarter of a million.
Mayor Cezar Schirmer decreed 30 days of mourning.
Nightclub fires take a heavy toll
THE Brazil fire is the deadliest nighclub blaze in more a decade. Among other fires in the past 75 years are:
DECEMBER 2009: An indoor fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches at the Lame Horse nightclub in Perm, Russia, pictured below, killing 152.
DECEMBER 2004: Fire killed 194 people at a club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after a flare ignited ceiling foam.
2003: Pyrotechnics used by rock band Great White set ablaze soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling of a nightclub in the US state of Rhode Island, killing 100 people.
DECEMBER 2000: A fire blamed on a welding accident tore through a disco in the Chinese city of Luoyang, killing 309.
1996: A fire at the Ozone disco pub in Quezon City, Philippines, killed 162 people, many of them students celebrating the end of the school year.
1977: The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, which touted itself as the Showplace of the Nation, burned to the ground, leaving 165 people dead.
1942: A fire killed 492 people at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove in 1942, the deadliest nightclub blaze in US history. It led to the enactment of requirements for sprinkler systems.
1940: A fire ignited Spanish moss draping the ceiling of the Rhythm Nightclub in Natchez, Mississippi, killing 209 people. The windows had been boarded shut to keep unwanted guests from sneaking in.