Flames raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing more than 230 people as panicked party-goers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air while stampeding toward a single exit partially blocked by those already dead. It appeared to be the world's deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade. Witnesses said a flare or firework lit by band members may have started the blaze. Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless young men who had attended a university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at windows and walls to free those trapped inside.
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Pedroso Melo, commander of the city's fire department, told the O Globo
newspaper that firefighters had a hard time getting inside the club
because “there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance.”
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,” survivor Luana
Santos Silva told the Globo TV network.
The fire spread so fast inside the packed club that firefighters and ambulances could do little to stop it, Silva said. Another
survivor, Michele Pereira, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that
she was near the stage when members of the band lit flares that started
the conflagration. “The band that was onstage began to use
flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward,”
she said. “At that point, the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak,
but in a matter of seconds it spread.” Police Maj. Cleberson
Braida Bastianello said by telephone that officials counted 233 bodies
that had been brought for identification to a gymnasium in Santa Maria, a
major university city with about 250,000 residents at the southern tip
of Brazil, near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay. An earlier count put the number of dead at 245.
Health Minister Alexandre Padhilha told a news conference that most of
the 117 people treated in hospitals had suffered intoxication from gases
they breathed during the fire. Only a few suffered serious burns, he
Brazil President Dilma Roussef arrived to visit the
injured after cutting short her trip to a Latin American-European summit
“It is a tragedy for all of us,” Roussef said.
of the dead apparently suffocated, according to Dr. Paulo Afonso
Beltrame, a professor at the medical school of the Federal University of
Santa Maria who went to the city's Caridade Hospital to help victims.
said he was told the club had been filled far beyond its capacity
during a party for students at the university's agronomy department.
Survivors, police and firefighters gave the same account of a band member setting the ceiling's soundproofing ablaze, he said.
amounts of toxic smoke quickly filled the room, and I would say that at
least 90 per cent of the victims died of asphyxiation,” Beltrame told
The Associated Press by telephone.
“The toxic smoke made people
lose their sense of direction so they were unable to find their way to
the exit. At least 50 bodies were found inside a bathroom. Apparently
they confused the bathroom door with the exit door.”
hospital, the doctor “saw desperate friends and relatives walking and
running down the corridors looking for information,” he said, calling it
“one of the saddest scenes I have ever witnessed.”