News Column

Brazil Club Had No License, Owner Admits

Jan. 28, 2013

Brazilian officials were trying to determine Monday why a nightclub where 231 were killed in a blaze ignited by performers did not have an operating license.

Authorities said they were investigating why the Kiss nightclub's main door was reported locked when the blaze broke out around 2 a.m. Sunday (11 p.m. EST Saturday).

One of the owners of the nightclub, in the college city of Santa Maria in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, confirmed to police the club's business license had expired, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported.

The two owners, identified by police as Hoffman and Elisandro Spohr, may be indicted on manslaughter and fire-setting charges, the newspaper said.

The club had no fire-prevention plan, which was supposed to have been completed in August 2012, National Secretary of Civil Defense Col. Humberto Viana said.

State fire department commander Col. Guido Pedroso de Melo told TV news channel Globo News most of the dead were found piled on top of each other at the locked exit.

"Most died from suffocation. Unfortunately, people were confined because the exit was locked," he said.

Some witnesses told local media security guards at other exits initially prevented people from leaving, thinking they were trying to skip out without paying their bills in a country where concertgoers generally settle up at the end.

When the guards saw the fast-moving blaze, they helped people escape, the witnesses said.

Authorities lowered the death toll to 231 from 232 and 233 late Sunday, with about 106 people still hospitalized. The officials said some victims' names had been reported twice.

Authorities originally reported a death toll of at least 245.

About 2,000 people, mostly students, were in the club -- twice its maximum authorized capacity of 1,000, de Melo said.

The students were celebrating before heading back to classes Monday after their summer break.

Santa Maria is a city of about 260,000 residents known for its universities.

The fire started in foam soundproofing after a member of the raucous Brazilian country music band Gurizada Fandangueira, known for its accordion, lit a flag that reached the ceiling Civil Defense coordinator Adelar Vargas said.

Guitarist Martins Rodrigo Lemos told the Folha a vocalist and a security person desperately tried to put out the sudden blaze with a fire extinguisher they found out was empty.

"The guys tried to extinguish it, but the extinguisher did not work -- nothing came out," Lemos said.

Accordionist Daniel Jaques, 30, is among the dead, the newspaper said.

"The foam insulation creates a highly toxic smoke," de Melo said.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who started her political career in Rio Grande do Sul, left a summit of Latin American and European leaders in Chile to travel to the scene.

"It's a tragedy for all of us. Who needs me now are the people of Brazil and it's there that I need to be," she said in Santiago, Chile, before flying to Brazil.

In Santa Maria, she visited a makeshift morgue at a local sports center, shedding tears as she sought to console relatives of some of the deceased.

Rousseff later visited survivors at a local hospital.

The disaster ranks among the deadliest of nightclub fires. A fire at a club in Luoyang, China, killed 309 on Christmas Day 2000. One in Buenos Aires in 2004 killed 194.

A fire at a West Warwick, R.I., nightclub Feb. 20, 2003, killed 100 people. That fire, like the one in Brazil, was started when a band ignited flammable sound insulation foam in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage.

That fast-moving fire engulfed the club in 5 1/2 minutes, officials said.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2013

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