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Fire in nightclub kills 231 in Brazil

28 January, 2013

Relatives of the 231 people who died in a Brazilian nightclub fire demanded answers on Monday as to how it could have killed so many people, while police questioned the club's owner and members of the band whose pyrotechnics show allegedly caused the tragedy.

Several coffins, many draped with flags of the victims' favorite soccer teams, lined a gymnasium that has become a makeshift morgue since the fire in the early hours on Sunday, one of the world's deadliest such incidents in a decade.

The death toll was revised down overnight from 233 to 231, as officials said some names had been counted twice.

Eighty-two people remained hospitalized in and around the southern city of Santa Maria. At least 30 of them were in serious condition.

As shell-shocked residents attended a marathon of funerals starting in the pre-dawn hours on Monday, the focus began to shift to what will likely be a barrage of police investigations, lawsuits and recriminations aimed at politicians and others.

"We can't trust in the ability of city hall, or the police, or anybody who permits a party with more a thousand people under these conditions," said Erica Weber, who was accompanying her daughter to a funeral for one of her classmates.

Most of the dead were suffocated by toxic fumes that rapidly filled the Kiss nightclub after the band set off a pyrotechnics display at about 2:30 a.m, witnesses said.

State prosecutor Valeska Agostini told Reuters one of the club's owners and members of the band had been taken into police custody to answer questions although no arrests or criminal charges are likely until after the investigation is completed.

The band's guitarist, Rodrigo Lemos Martins, 32, said he doubted the band was responsible for the blaze. "There were lots of wires (in the ceiling), maybe it was a short circuit," Folha de S.Paulo newspaper quoted him as saying.

The band's accordion player, Danilo Jaques, 30, was among those killed but the other five members survived.

It seems certain others will share the blame for Brazil's second-deadliest fire ever. The use of a flare inside the club was a clear breach of security regulations, fire officials said, and witnesses said bouncers initially tried to prevent people from fleeing from the one functioning exit because they believed they were trying to skip out on their bar tabs.

Clubs and restaurants in Brazil are generally subject to a web of overlapping safety regulations, but enforcement is uneven and owners sometimes pay bribes to continue operating.

The investigation of the Kiss fire could drag on for years. After a similar fire at an Argentine nightclub in 2004 killed 194 people, more than six years passed before a court found members of a band criminally responsible for starting the blaze and causing the deaths.

That tragedy also provoked a massive backlash against politicians and led to the removal of the mayor of Buenos Aires.

Valdeci Oliveira, a legislator in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state where the weekend tragedy took place, said on his Twitter feed that he and his colleagues would seek to ban pyrotechnics displays in closed spaces such as nightclubs.

"It won't bring anybody back but we're going to introduce the bill," Oliveira said.


TIMELINE - Fire in nightclub kills 231 in Brazil

A fire killed at least 231 people in a nightclub in southern Brazil on Sunday when a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze.

Among the deadliest fires at a nightclub was at the Cocoanut Grove in Boston on Nov. 28, 1942, when 492 people were killed. In Brazil, one of the worst fires at an entertainment venue was at a circus in Niteroi in 1961 in which 503 people died after an arson attack.

Following are some of the deadliest fires this century at entertainment venues:

March 29, 2000 - Paradise video parlor, an illegal porn cinema, at Jiaozuo in China's Henan province. 74 dead.

Dec. 25, 2000 - Mall at Luoyang, China; fire engulfs building workers and Christmas party at discotheque. 309 dead.

Dec. 1, 2002 - La Coajira nightclub in Caracas. 50 dead.

Feb. 20, 2003 - Station nightclub, West Warwick, Rhode Island; fireworks during heavy metal concert. 100 dead.

Dec. 30, 2004 - Republica Cromagnon nightclub, Buenos Aires; flare for New Year party hits foam ceiling. 192 dead.

Jan. 1, 2009 - Santika nightclub, Bangkok; New Year party. 61 dead.

Dec. 5, 2009 - Lame Horse nightclub, Perm, Russia; indoor fireworks ignite wicker ceiling. At least 155 dead.

Jan. 27, 2013 - Kiss nightclub, Santa Maria, Brazil; band had fireworks show. Police say the death toll is 231.