At least 233 people died Sunday when a fire gutted a nightclub packed with students and killed merry-makers desperately clamoring to get past blocked doors, police and survivors said.
Shocked survivors, mostly young adults in the southern college town of Santa Maria, described a frantic rush to the exits as flames swept through the club, with scores of people getting trampled and passing out from smoke inhalation.”It was sheer horror. I lost a very dear friend. The emergency exits did not work, and then I lost my friend in the confusion,” young dentist Mattheus Bortolotto told local television Band News.
Reports said the fire broke out after 2:00 am (0400 GMT) when the nightclub was hosting a university party featuring a rock band using pyrotechnics, but authorities have yet to offer an official explanation. Survivor Michelle Pereira said the blaze broke out when a band member lifted a firework into the air, setting the ceiling on fire. The flames quickly engulfed the entire room. “Everyone was pushing and shoving.
The discotheque’s fire permit had expired in August 2011, the local press reported, citing Moises Fuchsia Silva, head of the state fire department. Santa Maria said club security blocked people from exiting, sparking panic and trampling. Young men helped evacuate the wounded as firefighters doused the blackened shell of a red brick building with water and used sledge hammers to punch holes in the walls to get people out faster.
The bodies were taken to a sports stadium that was blocked off by police to keep grieving family members from streaming in. Family members and survivors, many of them sobbing and some with soot-blackened faces, gathered outside in the hope of getting news of their loved ones.
She said federal and local authorities are mobilizing “all resources, so that we do not just recover the bodies but also support families at this time and provide very efficient care to the injured.”
Argentina’s transplant center INCUCAI said it would be sending banked skin to help Brazil with a likely greater need for burn-related skin grafts. The tragedy recalled a 2003 blaze in a nightclub in the US state of Rhode Island that killed 100 people and another in Buenos Aires in 2004 that killed some 200, both blamed on faulty safety measures.