Brazil nightclub fire kills more than 230
BY JULIANA BARBASSA & MARCO SIBAJA Associated Press
Monday, January 28, 2013
1/28/13 at 6:26 AM
Flames raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing more than 230 people as panicked partygoers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air, 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 started the blaze in Santa Maria, a university city of about 225,000 people, though officials said the cause was still under investigation.
Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub as young men who had attended a university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at windows and walls to try to free those trapped inside.
Guido 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."
Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately seeking help. Others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms.
A 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."
Guitarist Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, started playing at 2:15 a.m. "and we had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning.
"It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. It's harmless; we never had any trouble with it."
Police Maj. Cleberson Braida Bastianello said that the death toll was likely made worse because the nightclub appeared to have just one exit.
Federal Health Minister Alexandre Padhilha told a news conference that most of the 117 people treated in hospitals had been poisoned by gases they breathed during the fire. Only a few suffered serious burns, he said.
Brazil President Dilma Rousseff arrived to visit the injured after cutting short her trip to a Latin American-European summit in Chile.
Most of the dead apparently were asphyxiated, 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.
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.
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.
People help an injured man, a victim of a nightclub fire in Santa Maria, Brazil, early Sunday. According to police, more than 230 died in the devastating blaze in southern Brazil. At least 200 people were also injured. AGENCIA RBS / Associated Press
Relatives cry next to a coffin at a gymnasium where bodies were brought for identification Sunday in Santa Maria, Brazil. NABOR GOULART / Associated Press