News Column

Nightclub Owner, Two Band Members Arrested Over Brazil Fire

Jan 28, 2013

Three people have been arrested for a deadly fire that swept through a Santa Maria nightclub killing 233 revellers, as Brazil was Monday mourning the victims and families were still identifying the dead.

An owner of the nightclub and two members of the band performing there at the time of the fire were arrested, police confirmed.

Another owner of the Kiss nightclub in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul was considered a fugitive, a police spokesman told news website G1.

The singer of the band Gurizada Fandangueira was reportedly arrested in the nearby town of Mata during the funeral for a fellow band member killed in Sunday's blaze.

Most of the victims were aged between 18 and 23 years, according to a list of the identified bodies that was made public. Many minors were also killed and at least 217 were injured.

Some 121 people remained in hospital Monday - 80 of them were listed in serious condition, said Health Minister Alexandre Padilha.

"These are patients who are in intensive care, with mechanical help to breathe," Padilha said.

The Brazilian authorities have contacted skin banks in neighbouring countries, including Argentina, Uruguay and Peru, in case they need assistance to perform grafts for those suffering severe burns.

The victims' families queued outside a sports centre, which had become a makeshift morgue, to identify their loved ones from the bodies that were laid out in a row with plastic sheets covering all but their faces.

Up to 80 bodies were to be buried Monday in Santa Maria.

The nightclub had a capacity for 2,000 people. Firefighters needed to make holes in the walls attempting to rescue possible survivors. When they finally managed to enter, they saw a pile of bodies.

Preliminary information indicated that the fire was sparked by a pyrotechnics display by the band during a concert attended largely by students from a nearby university.

Sparks hit the soundproof foam on the ceiling and caught fire, according to broadcaster Globo. Many people were unable to reach the emergency exits in the ensuing panic.

President Dilma Rousseff abruptly cut short her participation in the EU-Latin American summit in Santiago to travel Sunday to the Rio Grande do Sul, which is also her home state.

"I wanted to tell the people of our country and of Santa Maria that we are all together at this moment of sadness," she said with tears in her eyes. "And we will overcome this, though the sadness will remain."

Later Sunday, the president visited relatives of the dead at the sports centre and also some of the injured in hospital.

The government cancelled an event scheduled in Brasilia to mark the 500 days left until the start of the 2014 football World Cup, which the country is to host.

The Vatican expressed its condolences, saying in a telegram addressed to the archbishop of Santa Maria, Helio Adelar Rubert, that Pope Benedict XVI was "shocked" and wished to comfort the families of the victims and those injured.

The pope called for "courage and consolation" in Christ for those hit by the "tragedy."

Santa Maria is a town of 270,000, about 300 kilometres from Porto Alegre, and home to one of Brazil's largest public universities.

In 1961, 503 people died when a circus tent caught fire in Niteroi, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH