Fire crew outside the club

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Gary Duffy reports: ”It seems that they had great difficulty getting out”

Brazil has declared three days of national mourning for 231 people killed in a nightclub fire in the southern city of Santa Maria.

The fire reportedly started after a member of a band playing at the Kiss nightclub lit a flare on stage.

Authorities say most of the victims were students who died of smoke inhalation. The first funerals are expected on Monday morning.

It is the deadliest fire in Brazil in five decades.

The BBC’s Gary Duffy reports from Sao Paulo that the national sense of loss is profound.

Eyewitness – Fernanda Bona

“I am the official photographer at the club and I was taking photos of people. I was watching a band on stage and the fireworks.

I was in the VIP area and I could see the whole club. The area was close to the exit. I saw the fire going through the club.

People were screaming ‘fire, fire’ and to run. People were scared and were running everywhere.

I ran as quickly as I could to the door of the street. But it was hard to get out because there were so many people.

It took a few minutes for me to get out of the club. I know people who are in hospital or who are missing. A lot of people died from not so much the fire but the toxic smoke.”

Brazil postponed a ceremony due on Monday in the capital, Brasilia, to mark 500 days to the 2014 football World Cup. In Santa Maria, 30 days of mourning were declared.

President Dilma Rousseff, who cut short a visit to Chile, has been visiting survivors at the city’s Caridade hospital along with government ministers.

“It is a tragedy for all of us,” she said.

Authorities have released the names of the victims, after revising down the death toll from 245.

More than 100 people were being treated in hospital, mostly for smoke inhalation.

Officials will now investigate reports that a flare was lit on stage, igniting foam insulation material on the ceiling and releasing toxic smoke.

They will also look at claims that many of those who died were unable to escape as only one emergency exit was available.

‘Dark, heavy smoke’

The fire broke out as students from the city’s federal university (UFSM) were holding a freshers’ ball, the Diario de Santa Maria, a local newspaper, reported.

Other nightclub fires

  • 2009: Santika Club, Bangkok, Thailandsparked by fireworks; 66 killed
  • 2009: Lame Horse Club, Perm, Russia – sparked by fireworks; 150 killed
  • 2004: Cromagnon Republic Club, Buenos Aires, Argentina – flare starts fire which kills 194
  • 2003: The Station, Rhode Island, US – sparked by fireworks; 100 killed
  • 2000: Luoyang dance hall fire, China – fire blamed on welders kills 309
  • 1996: Ozone Disco Club, Quezon City, Philippines – 160 killed
  • 1990: Happy Land, New York, US – arson kills 89 at unlicensed club
  • 1977: Beverly Hills Supper Club, Southgate, Kentucky – 165 killed
  • 1970: Club 5-7, Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, France – 146 killed;
  • 1942: Cocoanut Grove, Boston, US – 492 killed.

A local journalist, Marcelo Gonzatto, told the BBC that the flare had “started a huge and fast fire that grew quickly and made a very dark and heavy smoke.”

“Lots of people couldn’t get out and died mainly because of the smoke not the fire,” he said.

Witnesses spoke of scenes of panic after the fire started, and a stampede as people tried to escape.

A large number of victims were trapped in the club’s toilets, they said, possibly after mistaking them for an exit.

Survivors and police inspector Marcelo Arigony said security guards briefly tried to block people from leaving the club, the Associated Press news agency reported. Bars in Brazil commonly make customers pay their whole tab at the end of an evening before they are allowed to leave.

One of the owners of the club is reported to have confirmed that they were in the process of renewing its license to operate, and that its fire safety certificate had expired last year.

He is said to have received threats on the internet, as too have surviving members of a band which was performing on stage when a flare is said to have been lit starting the blaze.

Brazilian broadcaster Globo said most of the victims were aged between 16 and 20.

A temporary morgue was set up in a local gym as the city’s main morgue was unable to cope.

Family members came to identify the dead, led in one by one to see the bodies, Diario de Santa Maria reported.

map of scene of fire

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