January 28, 2013

Club fire in Brazil kills more than 230

Witnesses say flares linked to a musical performance started the blaze. It appears the club had only one exit.

Juliana Barbassa and Marco Sibaja / The Associated Press

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Firefighters work to locate and assist survivors after an early-morning fire at the Kiss Club in Santa Maria, Brazil, on Sunday. The latest death toll was at 233, officials said.

AP Photo/Agencia RBS

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A woman cries over the coffin of her boyfriend at a gymnasium where bodies were taken for identification in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Sunday. They were both at the Kiss nightclub when flames raced through the crowded club in southern Brazil early Sunday.

The Associated Press

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Beltrame 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.

"Large amounts of toxic smoke quickly filled the room, and I would say that at least 90 percent 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."

In the 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."

Rodrigo Moura, identified by the newspaper Diario de Santa Maria as 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 to escape.

Santa Maria Mayor Cezar Schirmer declared a 30-day mourning period.

The blaze was the deadliest in Brazil since at least 1961, when a fire that swept through a circus killed 503 people in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro.

Sunday's fire also appeared to be the worst at a nightclub since December 2000, when a welding accident reportedly set off a fire at a club in Luoyang, China, killing 309.

In 2004, at least 194 people died in a fire at an overcrowded nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Seven members of a band were later sentenced to prison for starting the flames.

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