You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

World

  • Air Algerie flight 'probably crashed,' French minister says
    ALGIERS, Algeria – An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria’s capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali, officials said. France’s foreign minister said no wreckage had been found,
  • France: Air Algerie flight vanishes over N Mali
    An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the plane's owner and government officials in France and Burkina
  • 2 planes with more crash victims to leave Ukraine
    Dozens of containers holding remains of victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash were loaded aboard two military transports to go to the Netherlands Thursday on the second day of the airlift, while Australia’s government dispatched
Advertisement
Associated Press
A woman cries over the coffin of a victim Sunday at a gymnasium where bodies were brought for identification in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil.

Nightclub fire kills 233 in Brazil

Toxic smoke, blocked exit cited in massive death toll

– Flames raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing more than 230 people as panicked partygoers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air, stampeding toward a single exit partly blocked by those already dead. It appeared to be the world’s deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade.

Witnesses said a flare or firework lit by band members started the blaze in Santa Maria, a university city of about 225,000 people, though officials said the cause was still under investigation.

Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless young men who had attended a university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at windows and walls to free those trapped inside.

Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city’s fire department, told the O Globo newspaper that firefighters had a hard time getting inside the club because “there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance.”

Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately seeking 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.

The fire spread so fast inside the packed club that firefighters and ambulances could do little to stop it, Silva said.

Another survivor, Michele Pereira, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that she was near the stage when members of the band lit flares that started the conflagration.

“The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward,” she said. “At that point, the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak, but in a matter of seconds it spread.”

Guitarist Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, started playing at 2:15 a.m. “and we had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning”

“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.

“When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn’t working.”

He confirmed that accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other members made it out safely.

Police Maj. Cleberson Braida Bastianello said by telephone that the toll had risen to 233 with the death of a hospitalized victim – he said earlier that the death toll was likely made worse because the nightclub appeared to have just one exit through which patrons could exit.

Officials counted 232 bodies that had been brought for identification to a gymnasium in Santa Maria, which is located at the southern tip of Brazil, near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay.

Federal Health Minister Alexandre Padhilha told a news conference that most of the 117 people treated in hospitals had been poisoned by gases they breathed during the fire. Only a few suffered serious burns, he said.

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff arrived to visit the injured after cutting short her trip to a Latin American-European summit in Chile.

“It is a tragedy for all of us,” Rousseff said.

Most of the dead apparently were asphyxiated, according to 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.

Survivors, police and firefighters gave the same account of a band member setting the ceiling’s soundproofing ablaze, he said.

“Large amounts of toxic smoke quickly filled the room, and I would say that at least 90 percent of the victims died of asphyxiation,” Beltrame told The Associated Press by telephone.

“The toxic smoke made people lose their sense of direction so they were unable to find their way to the exit. At least 50 bodies were found inside a bathroom. Apparently they confused the bathroom door with the exit door.”

Advertisement