Brazilian Nightclub Fire Kills Scores; Dozens Wounded

A band’s fireworks display at a nightclub in Brazil early this morning turned deadly, killing more than 230 and injuring dozens when it set the building ablaze, according to police and televised reports.

Most of the victims at the club in Santa Maria, a city in southern Brazil with a number of universities, were students who died from smoke inhalation and some may have perished as they attempted to leave from the club’s exit doors, Andre Diefenbach, an official with the municipality’s police department, said today by telephone. Some died after they ran into the bathroom, thinking it was an exit, he said.

“People were screaming and trying to run to the exit,” Luciene Louzeiro, a survivor of the incident who was near the stage when the fire started, said in a televised interview with local news service O Globo. “It was horrible. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The death toll, initially estimated at 245, was lowered to 232, comprising 120 men and 112 women, O Estado do S. Paulo reported today, citing the Special Operations Battalion. There were 131 wounded, according to the report.

The incident prompted President Dilma Rousseff to cut short her participation in a summit of Latin American and European leaders in Santiago so she could return to Brazil.

Corpses are being transported to a local gymnasium, according to an official at the fire department who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Early Blaze

All of the bodies have been removed from the nightclub, called Kiss, and wounded were taken to hospitals in the region, O Globo said in a televised report. The fire started at about 2 a.m., Sao Paulo-based magazine Veja reported today, citing Guido de Melo, the head of Rio Grande do Sul state’s fire department.

There may have been as many as 900 people in the club, which has a capacity of about 2,000 people, said Diefenbach, the police official. Some security guards have been accused of not letting people leave before paying, Diefenbach said.

The incident may be the worst fire in Brazil’s history since 1961, when 503 people died at a circus in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the newspaper Folha D. Sao Paulo said today. Brazil is seeking to improve its safety record ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

In 2004, a blaze at a rock concert in a 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. About 200 people were injured.

Rousseff Returns

Santa Maria, with 250,000 residents, is about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southwest of Sao Paulo city. It has a young population because of its large number of universities.

“It is a tragedy for us all,” Rousseff said in a statement published by her communications department. Rousseff canceled her meetings at the summit she was attending in Santiago and is en route to Santa Maria by plane, according to Jose Ramos, a spokesman.

“Who needs me today is the Brazilian people and that’s where I have to be,” she said.

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