The Brazilian nightclub where a weekend blaze killed more than 230 people should never have been open to the public due to a series of fire code violations, authorities said.
Fire extinguishers and emergency lighting failed, exits were inadequate for the number of people in the club, and the performers used outdoor pyrotechnics without proper authorization, police inspectors told local media.
“The place was totally inadequate for that type of activity,” said Airton Michels, secretary of public security in Rio Grande do Sul state, where Santa Maria is located. “The nightclub should never have been operating.”
Two of the nightclub owners are jailed and had their assets frozen by a local judge to ensure possible compensation to victims, Police Inspector Sandro Meinerz said by telephone from Santa Maria, the city in southern Brazil where the tragedy occurred. Two band members who have also been detained denied their fireworks caused the fire.
The fire started in the ceiling’s sound-proofing insulation and was “probably” caused by a flare, Meinerz said.
Rio Grande do Sul’s government yesterday revised the death toll up to 235, adding three people not initially counted. Last night, 87 of the injured remained in intensive care units. While 59 survivors of the fire had been transferred from Santa Maria to hospitals elsewhere in the state, the condition of some of injured was still too critical to allow them be moved, a government press advisor, who declined to be named in accordance with policy, said.
Lack of Permits
The club didn’t have permission to use fireworks and the four people detained will be charged with manslaughter at least, local District Attorney Joel Dutra said in a Jan. 28 telephone interview.
“They all share in the responsibility,” said Dutra, who added that additional charges could be leveled against them and other suspects could be taken into custody. The mother and sister of one of the detained owners are cooperating with police and could be charged, Meinerz said.
More than 10,000 mourners dressed in white marched in the college town on Jan. 29, following the funerals of many of the victims. Hundreds of students protested in Santa Maria yesterday demanding justice, tougher fire codes and stricter inspections.
“There are indications not only that the owners are responsible, but also the municipality and the fire brigade,” Michels said by telephone from Santa Maria. He noted that half of the four-meter wide exit had been blocked.
The tragedy, Brazil’s deadliest fire in half a century, prompted legislators to urge stricter supervision and regulation of fire prevention, and for cities to step up nightclub inspections for fire safety equipment.
The president of Congress’ lower house, Marco Maia, said a special commission would monitor the investigation and propose a new federal law.
Video recordings from inside the club that could show if it was overcrowded can’t be found and admission tickets may have burned, Meinerz said. The owners said the recording equipment was ruined in the concert, he said.
President Dilma Rousseff led a minute of silence on Jan. 28 at a gathering of mayors elected last year, and urged policy makers to draw lessons from the event.
“In the face of that tragedy, we have the duty to ensure that tragedy never happens again,” Rousseff said.
Most of the victims died from inhaling smoke as the blaze incited a stampede toward the club’s only exit, leaving hundreds trapped inside.
“I pulled more than 180 people out of the bathroom,” Edi Paulo Garcia, a captain in the military brigade that led rescue efforts, said in an interview with Globo. “They’d been trying to escape.”
The club, known as Kiss, had all the “equipment necessary” to fight the fire, and management is working with authorities to investigate, the club said in statement distributed by law firm Kummel & Kummel.
The club was hosting a party for a group of students from the Federal University of Santa Maria who were celebrating the end of their summer break. Among the dead were at least 101 of its students, the university said on its website.
Some of the club’s security guards initially stopped people from leaving the premises before paying, witnesses told local media. Meinerz said their actions are also being investigated.
The incident is the worst fire in Brazil since 1961, when 503 people died at a circus in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo said. Brazil is seeking to improve its safety record before it hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014.
In 2004, a blaze at a rock concert in Buenos Aires killed 193, and the nightclub owner was convicted of manslaughter. In the U.S., fireworks led to the death of 100 people at a club in Warwick, Rhode Island, in 2003 when a pyrotechnics malfunction ignited foam used as soundproofing on the club’s walls.
The Rhode Island incident brought changes to the state’s fire code. Officials banned pyrotechnics in most venues and local fire marshals were empowered to fine violators. Authorities ordered that sprinklers be installed in nightclubs and bars with a capacity of more than 100 people, and nightclub workers were required to receive fire safety training.
Santa Maria, with more than 250,000 residents, is about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southwest of Sao Paulo city.