Monday, January 28th 2013 - 04:10 UTC

Santa Maria tragedy: Three days of national mourning; Rousseff cuts short political summit in Chile

Brazil declared on Sunday three days of national mourning and flags at half mast following the tragedy in the southern university city of Santa Maria where at least 233 people were killed or trampled to death when a disco went on fire.

Dilma Rousseff making the announcement (Photo: Reuters)

Trying to help survivors

Fire workers fighting the flames

The decree was made official and released minutes after President Dilma Rousseff landed in Brasilia after having visited relatives of the victims and the over a hundred injured in hospitals in Santa Maria. Previously she cut short her attendance to the EU/CELAC summit in Santiago de Chile.

“I think it is the people of Brazil and Santa Maria that need me at this moment” said an emotional Dilma Rousseff before abandoning Chile.

At least 233 people died Sunday early morning when flames raced through a crowded nightclub as panicked partygoers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air, stampeding toward a single exit partially blocked by those already dead.

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. The city is approximately 300 kilometers from Uruguay and Argentina in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul and is the seat of the Federal University of Santa Maria with over 27.000 students.

Shocked survivors, mostly young adults described a frantic rush to the exits as flames swept through the club, with scores of people getting trampled and passing out from smoke inhalation. The metal barriers used to keep people in line on their way in, ended up blocking people from getting out.

Another 117 people were in hospital and the death toll from the inferno climbed rapidly as fire-fighters pulled bodies from the charred remains of the “Kiss” club, believed to have been packed with up to 2.000 revellers.

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

“It's a tragedy for all of us, and I cannot continue here at the summit, because my priority is the Brazilian people,” the visibly emotional leader told reporters travelling with her in Santiago. “I would like to tell the Brazilian people and the people from Santa Maria that we are standing next to them in these tragic moments•.

She said federal and local authorities are mobilizing “all resources so that we do not just recover the bodies but also support families at this time and provide very efficient care to the injured.”

In Santa Maria on Sunday afternoon the president left the gymnasium where she met with relatives of the deceased and injured without talking to the press. Before she has visited the hospital where most of the injured are under treatment.

She was accompanied by Education minister Aloizo Mercadante, Human Rights minister Maria do Rosario and the the president of the Federal Lower House lawmaker Marco Maia.

Brazil also quickly postponed an event dubbed “500 Days until World Cup-2014” set for Monday in the federal capital Brasilia.

“As a sign of mourning due to the tragedy in Santa Maria, Federal District governor Agnelo Queiroz, who is deeply saddened, has decided to push back the event that had been scheduled for National Stadium,” his office said.

Another 117 people were in hospital and the death toll from the inferno climbed rapidly as fire-fighters pulled bodies from the charred remains of the “Kiss” club, believed to have been packed with up to 2.000 revellers.

Health Minister Alexandre Padilha told a news conference the government's priority was “saving the lives that we still can save.”

The tragedy appeared to be the deadliest such blaze in more than a decade, since a fire in the Cromagnon disco club in Buenos Aires killed almost 200 and in Asuncion, Paraguay a shopping mall took the lives of over 300 people because of chained exit and emergency doors after a fire which broke out in a chimney of one of the restaurants spread to the whole building causing widespread panic.

In both cases faulty security and emergency measures caused the tragedies and the Kiss club seems to be a repeat of circumstances.

Reports said the fire broke out after 2:00 am when the nightclub was hosting a university party featuring a rock band using pyrotechnics, but authorities have yet to offer an official explanation.

The discotheque's fire permit had expired in August 2011, the local press reported, citing Moises Fuchs da Silva, head of the state Fire Department.

Santa Maria fire chief Guido de Melo said the fire caused widespread panic, and that many revellers were trampled or died from smoke inhalation. He said club security blocked people from exiting, sparking panic and trampling.

Young men helped evacuate the wounded as fire-fighters 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.

13 comments Feed

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1 LEPRecon (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 06:02 am Report abuse
What a terribe tragedy! My thoughts and prayers go to the victims and their families.
2 Marcos Alejandro (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 06:05 am Report abuse
Our sincere prayers and thoughts go out to the families of our neighbors to the north.
3 Boovis (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 07:27 am Report abuse
Terrible, but why did they have so few exits? I often wonder about health and safety regulations when I hear about these nightclub fires.
4 reality check (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 08:42 am Report abuse
Condolences to the families of all these young people and the people of Brasil.
5 agent999 (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 09:20 am Report abuse
A terrible thing to happen to so many young people and their families.
6 Musky (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 09:51 am Report abuse
It's a nightmare.
7 ChrisR (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 11:17 am Report abuse
All too predictable.

Remember the one in Argentina last year, just the same attitude by the owners: they need to stop and or remove freeloaders to maximise profits and don’t care if the exits are locked or difficult to get to.

Until that changes there will be more of these tragedies. Same the world over, unfortunately.
8 Anglotino (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 11:53 am Report abuse
An unimaginable tragedy for the families of these students cut down in the prime of their lives.

My thoughts are with all my Brazilian friends as their nation copes with this.
9 Idlehands (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 01:39 pm Report abuse
A 1,000 person nightclub containing 2,000 revellers.
A fire safety certificate that expired last summer.
Only one entrance and exit to the entire building.

Let's set off some fireworks - there's a plan.
10 GFace (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 02:17 pm Report abuse
@3. I doubt it would make much if a difference. Pardon my fatalism but nightclubs are typically already dark when fires break out. When an emergency comes and even with a “sufficient” number of “clearly marked” exists and darned good bouncers most people are going to be turned around so many times in panic or simply from dancing they won't find them before they're clogged. These tragedies happen in plenty of countries including the US and other “northern” countries and the only “safe” solution is to party outside, the hazard is hard wired into the disco/nightclub by its very nature. :-/
11 agent999 (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 02:22 pm Report abuse
lessons must be learned!
12 toxictaxitrader2 (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 04:09 pm Report abuse
My God how did this happen?
I have a suggestion,the Brazilian students union should inspect every club students use,picket any club that doe,nt meet USA licensing standards(no I dont think Yankees are any better than Brazillians,but they have had there own tragedies and have learned valuable lessons,it is useless to rely on corrupt politicians,licensing officials,police ect.EMPOWER YOURSELVES
13 GeoffWard2 (#) Jan 28th, 2013 - 04:49 pm Report abuse
A sad, sad day.
Students will aggregate in clubs, and Brasilian students like to aggregate in larger numbers, packing close for exhuberance unknown in the UK, US, etc.
Questions will be asked, flammability and fireworks will be discussed, and people will be found guilty. But young people will always seek the 'uncontrolled' and 'edgy'.

The whole New Year coastline of my region of Bahia, and its baraccas (beachfront bars/'restaurants') with rock-band enclosures, had to be closed down for public safety a couple of years ago.
Hundreds of thousands of youngsters - and many of us not-so-young - migrated to our beaches for the celebrations ..... OK on a low tide with moonlight on the wide beach and reef, but a death trap when a new year co-incided with a pich-black high tide, squeezing in the mass of humanity into an ever-tightening strip of surfing-beach sand.
Luckily the authorities realised there was a disaster in the making and closed down all the coastal bars. It was sufficient, and we avoided the tide washing in hundreds of bodies of white-clad revellers.

Accidents happen, and more frequently where controls are less stringent.

My commiserations to the Santa Maria young people and their families.

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