A major blaze at a nightclub in the southern Brazilian town of Santa Maria has left at least 231 people dead, police said.
Earlier the death toll stood at 233, but overnight it was revised down to 231 as officials said some names had been counted twice.
At least 80 people are to be buried on Monday, the municipal government said. Meanwhile the police have arrested two owners of the club. One of them has already been questioned together with the members of a band whose pyrotechnic display supposedly caused the blaze.
Local officials have announced there will be three days of mourning, while the region’s governor tweeted, “Sad Sunday. We are taking appropriate action. I'll be in Santa Maria in the late morning.”
The Kiss Nightclub in Andradas Street was more than 1,000 people over capacity when the blaze broke out, officials say. A music band has been blamed for the immediate cause of the incident. They reportedly let off fireworks on stage which set fire to some acoustic insulation, this in turn produced thick smoke, causing many to die from inhaling toxic fumes.
"The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward," says survivor Michele Pereira. "At that point, the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak, but in a matter of seconds it spread."
"Smoke filled the place instantly, the heat became unbearable," survivor Murilo Tiescher, a medical student, told GloboNews TV. "People could not find the only exit. They went to the toilet thinking it was the exit and many died there."
The club did not have any emergency exits, causing a stampede towards the only way out of the building. Many people were trampled to death or suffocated as they tried to escape.
"We ran into a barrier of dead bodies at the exit," said firefighter chief, Guido Pedroso de Melo, "We had to clear a path to get to the rest of the people inside."
About 106 people were hospitalized, the Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper reported, at least 30 of them in critical condition.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff broke off her visit to Chile to return to Brazil following the accident.
Just over eight years ago, a fire at a disco in Buenos Aires, Argentina, left 194 people dead and over 700 injured. Five to six thousand people were in the club, and the blaze was triggered by a group of youths who set off fireworks. Once again all the fire exits were blocked.
And in 2009, a Russian club called ‘Lame Horse’ caught fire in the city of Perm, 156 people died in the blaze which began when a pyrotechnics display ignited the nightclub’s wooden and straw ceiling.