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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"I felt that something was falling from the roof and I looked up and I saw the fire was spreading, and I shouted 'Look, it's catching on fire, man, it's catching fire,'" Martins said. "Then the drummer tried to throw water on it, and it looked like the fire spread more then. Then the security guards came with an extinguisher, tried to use it, but it didn't work."

He added that the club was packed and estimated the crowd at about 1,200-1,300 people.

"I thought I was going to die there. There was nothing I could do, with the fire spreading and people screaming in front."

Martins confirmed that the group's accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other band members made it out safely. Martins said he thought Jacques made it out of the building and later returned to save his accordion.

Martins said the group nearly always used the so-called Sputnik pyrotechnics machine and that it had never before caused any problem, even in smaller venues. An electrical short circuit could also possibly have been to blame for the fire, he suggested.

Still, police were leaning toward the pyrotechnics as the likely cause of the tragedy. Police inspector Antonio Firmino, who's part of the team investigating Sunday's blaze, said it appeared the club's ceiling was covered with an insulating foam made from a combustible material that ignited with the pyrotechnics. He said the number and state of the exits is under investigation but that it appeared that a second door was "inadequate," as it was small and protected by bars that wouldn't open.

Television images from Santa Maria showed black smoke billowing out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless young men who attended the university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at the hot-pink exterior walls, trying to reach those trapped inside. Teenagers sprinted from the scene after the fire began, desperately seeking help. Others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms. About half of those killed were men, and another half women.

The party was organized by students from several academic departments at the Federal University of Santa Maria. Such organized university parties are common throughout Brazil.

"This shook the whole town," said Ocimar Franco, neighbor of fire victim Taize Santos, before her funeral Monday. "I feel the whole world is watching our town. I wish it were for another reason."

Among the dead were also brothers Pedro and Marcelo Salla, who were both buried Monday.

Beltrame said he was told the club had been filled far beyond its capacity, and the crowds and thickness of the smoke made it hard for people to find their way out.

"Large amounts of toxic smoke quickly filled the room, and I would say that at least 90 percent of the victims died of asphyxiation," Beltrame said. "The toxic smoke made people lose their sense of direction so they were unable to find their way to the exit. At least 50 bodies were found inside a bathroom."

Beltrame said people who were inside the club and thought they made it out safely have started to turn up at area hospitals with symptoms of smoke inhalation, which he said can take hours or even days to appear. He estimated that around 15 people have sought out help in the past few hours and said some have had to be intubated.

Santa Maria Mayor Cezar Schirmer declared a 30-day mourning period, and Tarso Genro, the governor of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, said officials were investigating the cause of the disaster.

The blaze was the deadliest in Brazil since at least 1961, when a fire that swept through a circus killed 503 people in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro.

Sunday's fire also appeared to be the worst at a nightclub anywhere in the world since December 2000, when a welding accident reportedly set off a fire at a club in Luoyang, China, killing 309 people.

___

Associated Press writers Marco Sibaja contributed to this report from Brasilia, Brazil, Stan Lehman and Bradley Brooks contributed from Sao Paulo and Jenny Barchfield contributed from Rio de Janeiro.

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