brazilfireBrazilian authorities have declared three days of national mourning for the 231 people killed in a nightclub fire this weekend.

The fire took place in the southern city of Santa Maria, with initial reports suggesting that a flare lit on stage at a university nightclub was the cause.

In addition to those who died, mostly from smoke inhalation & crushing, more than 100 people were treated in hospital after suffering smoke-related injuries when firefighters pulled them from the blaze.

Sergeant Arthur Rigue, part of a 90-strong firefighter crew deployed to the scene, told BBC Brazil: "I never witnessed a tragedy like this in my whole career.

"These people are so young… There were many bodies piled up in various parts of the place. Some were in the toilet. They died of asphyxiation."

A large majority of those killed were aged 16-21 and having identified the names of all the dead, authorites have begun to turn their attention to alleged health & safety breaches which contributed to the tragedy.

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

The fire broke out some time after 8pm local time when between 300 and 500 people are believed to have been in the club, where a band was playing.

Thick smoke engulfed the venue after acoustic insulation caught fire, eyewitnesses reported. Fire crews tried knocking through an exterior wall to help those trapped inside to escape.

"The toxic smoke made people lose their sense of direction so they were unable to find their way to the exit," added fire chief Guido de Melo. "People started panicking and ended up treading on each other."

The incident was the deadliest fire in Brazil in five decades and President Dilma Rousseff said: "It is a tragedy for all of us".

Posted 28/01/2013 by