Santa Maria (Brazil), Jan 28: At least 233 people were killed in a deadly fire that engulfed a nightclub in this university city in Rio Grande do Sul, a state in southern Brazil, on Saturday night. Most of the victims were teenagers, aged between 16 and 20. Local media said the fire started during the fireworks show when a band was performing in the club.
Several victims reportedly inhaled toxic fumes or were killed in a stampede as panic struck people who tried to escape at the fateful nightclub, called 'Kiss'. Grief-stricken families were later seen weeping over the coffins of their kin at a local gym used as a temporary mortuary.
The tragedy struck when soundproofing material made of foam caught fire after the fireworks hit the ceiling of the club and within moments, huge flames and thick smokes spread inside. Around 2,000 youngsters were enjoying the party in the club. The firefighters had to knock down a wall to enter inside the club to rescue the trapped.
Earlier, military sources said the death toll was 245, which was, however, later revised down to 233 by firefighting sources.
The authorities deferred a ceremony in Brasilia, the national capital, which was scheduled on Monday to mark 500 days to 2014 football World Cup.
Names of 230 victims were released till the last news came in while three names were still to be ascertained. Over 100 people were undergoing treatment in a hospital.
The country's President, Dilma Rousseff, cut short her visit to Chile and visited the survivors at the hospital along with other officials. She offered help to the injured and kin of the victims.
Brazil has seen a major tragedy like this for the first time in decades and questions were being asked about the safety standards that were being followed at such big gatherings. Concern was also raised about the inadequate number of exits in the club that also contributed to the death of so many people.
The incident is set to put pressure on the authorities to tighten safety norms in public gatherings, particularly in view of the fact that Brazil is going to host some of the biggest sporting tournaments in the world over the next few years. Besides the 2014 football World Cup, the country will also play hosts to the 2016 Olympics.
The latest tragedy is the second biggest in the history of Brazil, the first being circus fire in Rio state in 1961 that resulted in the the death of 503 people.