SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian authorities inspected and shuttered night spots around the country on Thursday as part of a crackdown on unsafe public spaces after a deadly nightclub fire left 235 people dead and shocked the nation. Officials in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico followed Brazil's example and tightened scrutiny on their own nightclubs.
The action comes just a week before Carnival celebrations get under way across Brazil and much of Latin America, with revelers set to pack streets and popular venues.
Inspectors in the Amazon city of Manaus have ordered the temporary closure of some 58 bars, nightclubs and other public buildings, the city's Em Tempo newspaper reported. Owners of the affected night spots staged a protest Thursday outside City Hall to denounce what they said were arbitrary closures, the newspaper said.
It added that fire code irregularities have been found even inside Manaus City Hall, including faulty emergency lighting and nonfunctional fire extinguishers.
In Rio de Janeiro, officials said they were studying the possible closure of some of the dozens of cultural centers operated by state and local governments, including theaters, libraries and museums said to hold expired licenses. Nine out of 10 municipal theaters in Rio have expired fire inspection certificates, the O Globo daily reported on Thursday. It also said two nightclubs in the Rio neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca have been closed.
The legal status of the Kiss nightclub in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria has come under intense scrutiny since Sunday's blaze, with firefighters and top officials insisting they had carried out inspections in accordance with the law. But the police inspector leading the investigation into the tragedy has said the club was so blatantly hazardous that "any child" could have seen it should not have been operating.
Police have said the blaze likely started when a band performing at the club lit a flare, which ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling. That initial error was compounded by the near-total lack of emergency infrastructure such as a fire alarms or sprinkler systems, police have said. The club also had only one working door and a faulty fire extinguisher.
The tragedy prompted action in several Latin American countries.
Mexico City's government launched a round of detailed inspections of bars and nightclubs, with plans to visit some 4,000 locations over the next four months to check smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency exits and other safety requirements, said Macarena Quiroz Arroyo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Civil Protection. She said the city regularly inspects entertainment venues but will carry out more minute evaluations than in the past.
"What happened in Brazil is a warning for the whole world," Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told reporters this week. "In Mexico City, with its nightlife and many places where large crowds gather, it's essential that we get to work in order to be sure" that conditions are safe.