28 Jan 2013

Safety questions raised after fatal nightclub fire

9:26 pm on 28 January 2013

Questions are being raised about safety at a Brazilian nightclub that went up in flames killing at least 232 people, with claims its fire licence certificate had expired.

Officials will investigate reports that a flare was lit by a band member performing on stage at the Kiss nightclub in southern city of Santa Maria, igniting foam insulation material on the ceiling and releasing toxic smoke.

They will also look at claims that many of those who died were unable to escape as only one emergency exit was available, the BBC reports.

Reports say the fire broke out after 2am on Sunday when the nightclub was hosting a university party featuring a rock band using pyrotechnics, but authorities have yet to confirm this.

Shocked survivors described a frantic rush to the exits as flames swept through the crowded club, with scores of panicked young people getting trampled and passing out from smoke inhalation, AFP reports.

Another 131 people were injured. Young men helped evacuate the wounded as firefighters doused the blackened shell of a red brick building with water and used sledge hammers to punch holes in the walls to get people out faster.

The bodies were taken to a sports stadium that was blocked off by police to keep grieving family members from streaming in.

Family members and survivors gathered outside in the hope of getting news of their relatives and friends. The town is home to the Federal University of Santa Maria.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile, where she was attending a European and Latin American summit, to head to Santa Maria and oversee the response to the tragedy.

Ms Rousseff met with the victims' families at the stadium and was visibly distressed.

It is the deadliest fire in Brazil in five decades. The government has declared three days of national mourning and all major events have been cancelled.

The first of the funerals have been held on Monday.