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Nightclub Fire in Brazil Kills More Than 230 People

Brazil Club Fire
Jefferson Bernardes, AFP

More than 230 people have died in southern Brazil following what the AP calls the “world’s deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade.” The blaze started early this morning (Jan. 27) at the Kiss club in Santa Maria, Brazil, where the band Gurizada Fandangueira allegedly set the venue’s soundproof ceiling alight with faulty pyrotechnics.

News of the tragedy comes roughly a month shy of the 10-year anniversary of the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., where 100 people were killed during a performance by the rock band Great White in February 2003.

Officials have yet to confirm the cause of today’s Brazilian blaze, but as per the AP, witnesses said “a flare or firework” lit by the band set the tragedy in motion.

“It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks,” Gurizada Fandangueira guitarist Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha. “It’s harmless, we never had any trouble with it.”

“When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn’t working,” he added, confirming that the group’s accordionist, 28-year-old Danilo Jacques, died in the fire.

According to reports, the venue was hosting a university party and packed with some 2,000 people — double the legal capacity. Many were trampled in the mad rush for the club’s single exit, and Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a Federal University of Santa Maria medical professor who helped treat the victims, said about “90 percent of the victims died of asphyxiation,” not burns.

While firefighters did their best to break into the building and free the trapped concertgoers — many of them teenagers — “there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance,” as local fire commander Guido Pedroso Melo explained, and that made rescue efforts difficult.

“I’d like to tell the population of our country, and of Santa Maria, that we are all together in this moment,” Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said. She promptly canceled plans to attend a summit in Chile in order to visit Santa Maria, a university town of 250,000 in the southern part of the country.

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