January 28, 2013 – 240 Dead in Nightclub Fire in Brazil: At least 240 people died in a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria early Sunday, local government officials said.
The Globo television network reported that the fire broke out around 2 a.m. local time, when the Kiss nightclub was crowded with more than 1,000 revelers. Officials said the death toll could rise, prompting President Dilma Rousseff to cut short her attendance at a summit of Latin American and European leaders in Chile and fly home.
The cause of the fire was unclear. Globo quoted firefighters as saying the blaze apparently was caused by sparks from faulty sound-and-light equipment, although one witness said the band was using fireworks that could have triggered the fire.
Nightclubs in the region have suffered similar tragedies in recent years, partly because of weak safety supervision by local governments. A fire in a nightclub in Argentina in late 2004 killed 194 people when a pyrotechnic flare was set off and ignited foam in the ceiling. Materials used for decoration were found to be flammable, while some fire exits were chained shut. Safety inspectors came in for heavy criticism as the nightclub, Republica Cromanon, was overdue for a fire-hazard inspection. The incident also forced Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra to resign.
Firefighters said most of the deaths at the Kiss night club were caused by smoke inhalation, but some people may have been crushed as patrons rushed in a panic for the club’s sole exit.
“I want to say to the people of our country and to the people of Santa Maria that at this moment of sadness we are together, and necessarily we will overcome,” said Ms. Rousseff, who was close to tears as she finished speaking at a news conference in Chile.
The government is “mobilizing resources” to deal with the tragedy, and the main efforts at this point are to recover the bodies of the victims and help the injured, the president said.
Officials of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil‘s southernmost state, called the tragedy the worst of its kind in the state’s history. “We are taking all possible measures to aid the victims,” state Governor Tarso Genro said. (Credits: Narrative – Tom Murphy and Matthew Cowley for The Wall Street Journal, Picture – Agencia RBS/AFP/Getty Images).
The Master of Disaster