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At least 232 people are dead after a fast-moving fire swept through a nightclub in Brazil early Jan. 27, the Associated Press reported.
Many of the partygoers were caught in a stampede as the crowd tried to escape the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub. Inspectors told the AP that the fire started when a band’s small pyrotechnics show ignited foam sound insulating material on the ceiling.
Most of the victims — who were primarily university students — died from smoke inhalation and not burns at the club, which was said to be filled at well over capacity. It’s believed to be the world’s deadliest nightclub fire since since December 2000, when 309 people were killed at a club in Luoyang, China, after a welding accident reportedly set off a fire. The party at Kiss, located in southern Brazil, was organized by students from several academic departments from the Federal University of Santa Maria.
Officials said most of those who died were suffocated by smoke within minutes. After the fire broke out, security guards briefly tried to block the exits as Brazilian bars typically make customers pay their entire tab before they are allowed to leave. But the blockade didn’t appear to last long.
“It was chaotic, and it doesn’t seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died,” police inspector Marcelo Arigony told the AP.
When firefighters arrived, they had trouble getting into the club because “there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance,” Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city’s fire department, told the O Globo newspaper.
Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors.
“It was terrible inside — it was like one of those films of the Holocaust, bodies piled atop one another,” police inspector Sandro Meinerz told the AP. “We had to use trucks to remove them. It took about six hours to take the bodies away.”
The band, Gurizada Fandangueira, began playing at 2:15 a.m. and had performed five songs when the guitarist, Rodrigo Martins, noticed the fire.
“It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. It’s harmless, we never had any trouble with it,” he said. “When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher. The singer tried to use it but it wasn’t working.”
All of the members of the band escaped because they were the first to notice the fire; however, Danilo Jacques died when he returned inside in an attempt to save his accordian.
Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a professor at the medical school of the Federal University of Santa Maria who went to the city’s Caridade Hospital to help victims, told the AP that most people lost their sense of direction because of the effects of the toxic smoke.
“They were unable to find their way to the exit,” he said. “At least 50 bodies were found inside a bathroom. Apparently they confused the bathroom door with the exit door.”
The fire also 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.
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