They are still pulling bodies out of the smoldering rubble of a popular nightclub in the Brazilian city of Santa Maria, so a final death toll can’t be ascertained. But at least 245 young people attending a university party died in the fire with hundreds more injured.
The Associated Press is reporting that the nightclub had a single exit with no lit “exit” sign above the door:
Police Maj. Cleberson Braida told local news media that the 245 bodies were brought for identification to a gymnasium in the city of Santa Maria, at the southern tip of Brazil near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay
Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless, young male partygoers joined firefighters in wielding axes and sledgehammers, pounding at windows and walls to break through to those trapped inside. Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately trying to find help — others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms.
“There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead,” survivor Luana Santos Silva told the Globo TV network.
Silva added that firefighters and ambulances responded quickly after the fire broke out, but that it spread too fast inside the packed club for them to help.
Michele Pereira, another survivor, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that she was near the stage and that the fire broke out after band members lit flares.
“The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward. At that point the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak but in a matter of seconds it spread,” Pereira said.
Civil Police and regional government spokesman Marcelo Arigoni told Radio Gaucha earlier that the total number of victims is still unclear and there may be hundreds injured. Officials earlier said 180 were killed.
Rodrigo Moura, identified by the newspaper Diario de Santa Maria as a security guard at the club, said it was at its maximum capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000, and partygoers were pushing and shoving to escape.
Businessweek lists other nightclub fires, some of them caused by pyrotechnics used by the band playing that night:
— A blaze at the Lame Horse nightclub in Perm, Russia, broke out in December 2009, when an indoor fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches, killing 152.
— A December 2004 fire killed 194 people at an overcrowded working-class nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after a flare ignited ceiling foam.
— A nightclub fire in the U.S. state of Rhode Island in 2003 killed 100 people after pyrotechnics used as a stage prop by the 1980s rock band Great White set ablaze cheap soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling.
—In China’s worst nightclub disaster in recent years, a fire blamed on a welding accident tore through a disco in the central city of Luoyang in December 2000, killing 309 people.
—A fire at the Ozone Disco Pub in 1996 in Quezon City, Philippines, killed 162 people, many of them students celebrating the end of the school year.
—In 1977, 165 people perished and more than 200 were injured when the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, which touted itself as the Showplace of the Nation, burned to the ground.
—A fire killed 492 people at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove club in 1942, the deadliest nightclub blaze in U.S. history. The fire led to the enactment of requirements for sprinkler systems and accessible exits with emergency lights not linked to the regular lighting system.
We may find that Brazil has similar codes on the books but due to corruption, or incompetence, the codes were not enforced. This is what happened in the 2004 Argentina club fire where the club had received a permit despite lacking basic fire safety measures like fire extinguishers.
The Rhode Island club fire resulted in prison sentences for the manager of the band Great White, who lit the pyrotechnics, and the club’s owners who bought substandard acoustic ceiling tiles. Two of the four exits in the club were blocked with a door behind the bar being chained shut.
Most people don’t do it, but when you enter a bar, a restaurant, or a public place of any kind, noticing where the exits are could save your life. Nothing would have helped the poor unfortunates in Brazil, however, who are apparently victims of lax building codes and the possible unthinking use of incendiary devices where they shouldn’t have been employed.