Neglect, errors to blame in Brazil nightclub fire

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm •  Published: January 28, 2013
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SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — There was no fire alarm. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. And when a band member tried to put out a fire that had been started by pyrotechnics, the extinguisher didn't work.

All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.

Funerals began on Monday, as reports continued to emerge about the accumulation of neglect and errors at the packed night spot.

According to state safety codes here, clubs should have one fire extinguisher every 1,500 square feet as well as multiple emergency exits. Limits on the number of people admitted are to be strictly respected. None of that appears to have happened at the Santa Maria nightclub.

"A problem in Brazil is that there is no control of how many people are admitted in a building," said Joao Daniel Nunes, a civil engineer in nearby Porto Alegre. "They never are clearly stated, and nobody controls how many people enter these night clubs."

Santa Maria's mayor, Jose Fortunati, told Radio Gaucha that dozens of night spots were closed last year for failing to meet norms.

"At that time, we had lots of protest from those who frequented them, but I think that today people understand it better and that at times hard stands must be taken so that steps are taken to not put people's lives at risk," Fortunati said.

Brazilian police said they detained three people in connection with the blaze, while the newspaper O Globo said on its website that a fourth person had surrendered to police. Police Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Junior said the detentions were part of the ongoing police probe and those detained can be held for up to five days.

Vieira declined to identify those detained, but the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora quotes lawyer Jader Marques saying his client Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, had been held. Globo reported that the fourth person detained was another club co-owner. G1, Globo Television's internet portal, reported that Spohr acknowledged the club's operating license was not up to date but said the pyrotechnics show started the blaze.

Zero Hora said police also detained two members of the band. The band's guitarist told Brazilian media he saw flames lick the ceiling after the group's spark machine was deployed.

More than 100 people remained hospitalized for smoke, local officials said.

National Health Minister Alexandre Padilha cautioned that the death toll could worsen dramatically. Speaking to media in Santa Maria, he said that 75 of those injured were in critical condition and could die.

However, Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a doctor helping coordinate the emergency response, said he was optimistic at least some of those injured would pull through.

"It's impossible to predict what will happen, because they are all in a very delicate state, but there's hope for all of them," said Beltrame, adding that more than 40 survivors had been sent to neighboring cities for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation. "One of the problems we're having here is that all these people need to be on respirators and we don't have enough respirators in the city."

The event raises questions of whether Brazilian authorities are up to the task of ensuring safety in such venues ahead of it hosting next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Some critics have said conditions in many Brazilian bars and clubs are ripe for another deadly blaze. In addition to modernizing sometimes outdated safety codes and ensuring sufficient inspectors, people have to change their way of thinking and respect safety regulations.

Funeral services were held for several of the 231 victims, most of them college students 18 to 21 years old. Some of the victims were minors. Most died from smoke inhalation rather than burns.

Witnesses said security guards who didn't know about the blaze initially blocked people from leaving without paying their bills. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they're allowed to leave. Many of the dead were found in the club's two bathrooms, where the blinding smoke caused them to believe the doors were exits.

Rodrigo Martins, a guitarist for the group Gurizada Fandangueira, told Globo TV network in an interview Monday that the flames broke out minutes after the deployment of a pyrotechnic machine that fans out colored sparks, at around 2:30 a.m. local time.

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