Rio Cracks Down on Bars as Club Blaze Hangs Over Carnival

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro are stepping up inspections of bars ahead of Carnival as a blaze that killed 235 people draws attention to the party capital’s record for safety and crowd control.

Firefighters yesterday shut down the second floor of Bar Mofo after the popular club in the nighttime Lapa district was found lacking a license allowing live performances. The partial closure was the result of inspections that have proliferated across the country after authorities blamed multiple fire and safety code violations for the deadly blaze over the weekend at a club in the southern town of Santa Maria.

The tragedy, Brazil’s deadliest fire in half a century, has outraged Brazilians, leading to a wave of national soul-searching and prompting calls for stricter supervision of nightclubs to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again. That’s especially true in Rio, as the host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics awaits the arrival of an estimated 900,000 tourists for the annual Carnival revelry beginning next week.

“Unfortunately in Brazil action only takes place when there’s a tragedy of this magnitude,” Isnard de Oliveira Manso, president of Polo Novo Rio Antigo, an association of 45 bars and night clubs in the Lapa area, said in a phone interview.

Rio’s Revelry

Lapa, a district of historically preserved buildings adjacent to the city’s Sambadrome, ground zero for Carnival, is one of the areas under the microscope. On any given weekend, its bars and samba clubs are packed with besotted Brazilians and tourists, whose revelry spills over into the streets.

Club owners in the area are working with authorities to redouble safety measures and prevent a tragedy like the one in Santa Maria from ever occurring in Rio.

Among their concerns are the excessive red tape required to obtain a permit, a process that lends itself to abuse and can force well-intentioned bar owners to wait for several years to operate legally, said Manso.

Still, the tragedy has led even well-prepared proprietors to boost safety. Rio Scenarium, a three-floor samba hall in Lapa that can accommodate more than 2,000 people, yesterday installed a fire escape route using glow in the dark adhesive tape.

“It’s not something required by law but we thought it was wise to do in the wake of this tragedy,” Plinio Froes, part owner of the club, said in a phone interview. “We want to have complete peace of mind.”

Action Elsewhere

An extra obstacle for Lapa are laws protecting the area’s century-old facades. One bar, Sacrilegio, had its request several years ago for a permit to widen its single exit denied because of a prohibition against modifications, said Denis Paiva, the bar’s head of human resources.

Phone calls to Bar Mofo were not immediately returned and the owner was not on the premises when visited by Bloomberg News.

In addition to Lapa, another concern ahead of Carnival may be Rio’s numerous samba schools, the most popular of which can attract thousands of spectators to open-air rehearsals where the beer is flowing and security minimal.

Elsewhere in Brazil, other cities have been stepping up inspections and closing venues that fail to meet safety standards.

In Sao Paulo, the most populous state, 300 teams of firefighters will inspect all establishments bigger than 1,000 square meters, Globo TV reported. In Manaus, in the Amazon, authorities also shut down several bars that lacked functioning fire extinguishers.

“It happened in Santa Maria, but the same thing could happen” in Rio or anywhere, said Pedro Axelrud, 22, as he was lunching in Lapa today.

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