Blaze at nightclub in Brazil claims 232 lives

FP

A blaze raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing 232 people as the air filled with deadly smoke and panicked party-goers stampeded toward the exits, police and witnesses said. It appeared to be the world's deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade.

Witnesses said that fireworks lit by band members may have started the fire.

Police Maj. Cleberson Braida Bastianello said that officials counted 232 bodies that had been brought for identification to a gymnasium in the city of Santa Maria, at the southern tip of Brazil near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay.

Another 117 people were being treated at hospitals, he said, and President Dilma Roussef arrived to visit victims after cutting short participation at a Latin American-European summit in Chile.

Most of the dead apparently suffocated, according to Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a professor at the medical school of the Federal University of Santa Maria who raced the city's Caridade Hospital to help victims. He said survivors and police told him a flare set off by a band member set the ceiling's soundproofing ablaze. "At least 50 bodies were found in a bathroom. Apparently, they confused the bathroom door with the exit door," he said.

Rodrigo Moura, identified by the newspaper Diario de Santa Maria as a guard at Kiss club, said it was at its maximum capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000, and partygoers were pushing and shoving to escape.

Beltrame also said he was told the club was filled far past its capacity during a party for students at the university's department of agronomy.

The event featured a group called Gurizada Fandangueira, which plays a driving mixture of local Brazilian country music styles. It was not immediately clear if the band members were among the victims.

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