At Least 232 Dead in Smoke, Stampede in Brazil Club Fire

AP: 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 a flare or firework lit by band members may have started the fire.

Police Maj. Cleberson Braida Bastianello said by telephone 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. Bastianello said the recount lowered the toll from 245 earlier believed killed.

Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless, young male partygoers joined firefighters in wielding axes and sledgehammers, pounding at windows and walls to break through to those trapped inside. Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately trying to find help. Others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms.

"There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead," survivor Luana Santos Silva told the Globo TV network.

Michele Pereira, another survivor, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that she was near the stage and that the fire broke out after members of the band lit flares.

"The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward. At that point the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak but in a matter of seconds it spread," Pereira said.

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.

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