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Montevideo, April 18th 2024 - 17:31 UTC



Argentine police looking for owner of club where 180 died

Friday, December 31st 2004 - 20:00 UTC
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Argentine police were looking Friday for the owner of a “deathtrap” nightclub where 180 people died in this city's worst-ever fire, while authorities declared three days of mourning during which no New Year's festivities or music will be allowed on municipal property.

Police called on those who witnessed the tragedy to come forward to testify in what was shaping up as a criminal investigation. They also were seeking Omar Chaban, owner of the "Cromagnon Republic" club that was the scene of the tragedy.

The entire nation was in mourning this New Year's Eve following the Thursday night blaze, whose victims were mostly teenagers or young adults trampled to death or suffocated by smoke.

Authorities said emergency exits of the club in the capital's Once neighbourhood were sealed shut with wire, preventing stampeding concert-goes from escaping after a flare shot by an audience member sparked the fire.

More than 4,000 people were packed into the 1,500 square meter (16,000 sq ft) club for a concert by the rock band Callejeros. The flare, which struck and ignited fabric draped over the stage, was launched shortly after the band struck up its first number. More than 700 people were injured, and some of them were in critical condition.

"The death toll could rise at any moment," Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra told reporters Friday.

"There had been a (fire-safety) inspection and the building passed. But last night there were only two operating exits and the others were sealed with wire," Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez told a press conference. "Those young people were condemned to a deathtrap," he said. Fernandez said the club was filled beyond legal capacity. Even so, "if the doors were working it could have been evacuated in two minutes and no one would have suffocated," he said.

He promised an investigation to assign responsibility, which could include charges of criminal negligence for the tragedy.

The scene outside the club was one of chaotic grief throughout the night, as parents and relatives arrived seeking information about their loved ones.

Several hospitals and clinics, as well as the crowded city morgue, began providing identities of fatalities early Friday. But Ibarra said many of the victims were not carrying identification, so the process was a slow one.

One hospital said that although most of the patients it was treating were teens and young adults, it had also admitted 13 children under 11 years of age injured in the blaze. At least two babies were reported among the victims.

The death toll from the Cromagnon blaze surpassed even that from Argentina's worst-ever terrorist attack, a July 18, 1994 truck-bomb attack on the AMIA Jewish cultural center here that left 85 dead and 200 wounded. That attack is blamed on Islamic extremists.

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