SURVIVORS of a deadly nightclub fire and stampede in Romania say the lead singer of the heavy metal band on stage made a joke at first about the fire before it engulfed the Bucharest basement club.
Hundreds of young people had gone clubbing at the hip Colectiv nightclub on Friday night to enjoy a free concert by the Goodbye to Gravity heavy metal band. The night ended in horror, as the inferno caused a panic that killed 27 people and injured 180 others.
About 146 people remained hospitalised yesterday, some in a critical condition suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
Officials expect the death toll to rise in what is the worst ever disaster of its kind in Romania.
Premier Victor Ponta cut short a visit to Mexico to return to Bucharest and declared three days of mourning for the victims starting immediately.
Raed Arafat, an emergency situations official, said 17 of those who died still have not been identified. TV stations posted a number for families to call to find out about the tragedy.
An Italian woman, two Spanish citizens and a German man were among the injured, the Romanian Intelligence Agency said.
Witnesses told Antena 3 TV that between 300 and 400 mostly young people had been at the club, housed in a former factory, when a pyrotechnical show went awry. They said there was only one exit.
Club-goers told Digi 24 television that a spark on stage ignited some polystyrene decor. Photos posted on social media appeared to show a flame emanating from a pillar covered in foam insulation as those in the audience applauded the band.
Delia Tugui, a Spanish teacher at the American International School of Bucharest who was at the concert with her husband and son, said club-goers were surprised by how fast the fire spread and panicked.
“The lead singer made a quick joke: ‘This wasn’t part of the programme.’ The next second, he realized it wasn’t a joke and asked for a fire extinguisher,” she wrote on Facebook. “In 30 seconds the fire spread all over the ceiling. People rushed to the entrance but it was too narrow, and people panicked. Behind me people stampeded, climbing over each other, to try and get out.”
“Friends were looking for each other under the pile of people. Asking ‘Is it you? Where are you? I can’t see you. Is that your arm?’ It was a nightmare.”
She said she knew some would not escape.
“I realized that those on the other side of the bar would not get out alive.”
“I was two metres from the door and I barely got out,” she said. “People started pushing each other, stamping on each other, it was incredibly quick.”
Once she got outside there was a blast and her hair caught fire, she said.
Bogdan Oprita, spokesman for the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, said it was the worst bloodshed since the 1989 anti-Communist revolution.
“It was like a war. Dozens of surgeons were called from home and asked to operate,” he said.
Prosecutors said they are investigating possible manslaughter charges. Police spent all night in the club investigating the incident and questioning the club’s owners.