Nightclub fire kills 233 in Brazil

Sun Jan 27, 2013 5:58pm EST
 
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By Ana Flor

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (Reuters) - A nightclub fire killed at least 233 people in southern Brazil early on Sunday when a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze and fleeing partygoers stampeded toward blocked and overcrowded exits in the ensuing panic, officials said.

The blaze in the university town of Santa Maria was ignited by sparks from pyrotechnics used by the band for visual effects. They set fire to soundproofing on the ceiling and the club rapidly filled with toxic smoke, local fire officials said.

Most of those who died were suffocated by fumes, fire brigade Sergeant Robson Muller told Reuters. Others were crushed in the stampede.

"Smoke filled the place instantly, the heat became unbearable," survivor Murilo Tiescher, a medical student, told GloboNews TV. "People could not find the only exit. They went to the toilet thinking it was the exit and many died there."

Fire officials said at least one exit was locked and that club bouncers, who at first thought those fleeing were trying to skip out on bar tabs, initially blocked patrons from leaving. The security staff relented only when they saw flames engulfing the ceiling.

The tragedy, in a packed venue in one of Brazil's most prosperous states, comes as the country scrambles to improve safety, security and logistical shortfalls ahead of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics, both intended to showcase the economic advances and first-world ambitions of Latin America's largest nation.

In Santa Maria, a city of more than 275,000 people, rescue workers and weary officials wept alongside family and friends of the victims at a local gymnasium being used as a makeshift morgue.

"It's the saddest, saddest day of my life," said Neusa Soares, the mother of one of those killed, 22-year-old Viviane Tolio Soares. "I never thought I would have to live to see my girl go away."   Continued...

A policeman and rescue workers help a man in front of Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, 187 miles (301 km) west of the state capital of Porto Alegre, in this picture taken by Agencia RBS, January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Germano Roratto/Agencia RBS