Witnesses recounted a scene of horror “like something out of a movie” after a fire at a nightclub in Brazil left at least 232 people dead.
The tragedy happened early yesterday during a student night at Kiss nightclub in the town of Santa Maria, in southern Rio Grande do Sul state.
The blaze was started by a flare thrown from the stage and quickly swept through the club, witnesses said. Survivors told of chaos as hundreds of partygoers scrambled for the exit as thick black smoke filled the club. Most of the victims died of asphyxiation or from being trampled in the panic, police said.
“Those who were far from the doors had simply no chance,” said clubber Matheus Bortolotto, who went back into the club to find survivors. “A girl died in my arms, I felt her heart stop beating. It was like something out of a movie. The ambulances simply could not cope with all the wounded.”
The fire started soon after 2.30am when between 400 and 500 people were in the club listening to one of the night's two bands open their set.
A flare thrown from the stage appears to have ignited soundproofing foam on the ceiling.
“We looked up at the ceiling in front of the stage and saw it had caught fire,” clubber Luana Santos Silva (23), told Brazil's Globo TV.
“My sister grabbed me and dragged me out of the club. Everyone was pushing and shoving... the fire started out small, but in a matter of seconds it exploded,” said Taynne Vendruscolo, another survivor.
Some witnesses claim there was only one exit — and that security guards initially blocked their escape.
Murilo de Toledo Tiecher, a 26-year-old medical student, said: “People were screaming ‘there's a fire' but the security guards didn't budge and tried to keep the door shut. Five or six people knocked over one security guard and knocked down the door. It was the only exit.”
Another 117 victims were last night being treated in hospital.
Yesterday, bodies were removed from the club hours after the fire was extinguished. According to Brazil's O Globo newspaper, the first truck carried 67 bodies and the second 70. Police cordoned off the site to prevent anguished relatives from streaming in.
The city declared 30 days of mourning.
Brazil's President, Dilma Rousseff, cut short a visit to Chile to visit the scene
“The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward. At that point the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak but in a matter of seconds it spread.”
Michele Pereira, survivor
“In the hospital I saw desperate friends and relatives walking and running down the corridors looking for information. It was one of the saddest scenes I have ever witnessed.”
Dr Paulo Afonso Beltrame of the Federal University of Santa Maria