|The scene after the nightclub fire at Santa Maria, southern Brazil, on Sunday. (AFP)
Jan. 27 (Reuters): At least 245 people were killed in a nightclub fire in southern Brazil in the early hours of today after a band’s pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze, and fleeing patrons were unable to find the emergency exits, officials said.
An estimated 500 people were in the Boate Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria when the fire broke, and many were unable to find the exits as dark smoke quickly filled the room.
At least one exit was locked, trapping hundreds inside to die, many from asphyxiation as they inhaled smoke, police said.
By noon, the death toll had risen to 245 and 48 people were being treated in hospitals
Television footage showed people sobbing outside the club, while shirtless firefighters used sledge hammers and axes to knock down an exterior wall to open up an exit.
“It was really fast. There was a lot of smoke, really dark smoke,” survivor Aline Santos Silva, 29, told Globonews TV. “We were only able to get out quickly because we were in a VIP area close to the door.”
President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile and was returning to Brazil following the blaze, her spokesperson said.
Luiza Sousa, a civil police official in Santa Maria, said the blaze started when a member of the band or its production team ignited a flare, which then set fire to the ceiling. The fire spread “in seconds,” Sousa said.
The disaster recalls other incidents including a 2003 fire at a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that killed 100, and a Buenos Aires nightclub blaze in 2004 that killed nearly 200.