By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SANTA MARIA, BRAZIL – Arrests have been ordered for four people after a tragic fire at a nightclub in Santa Maria, in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The flames claimed the lives of at least 231 people; and around eighty people remain in the hospital in a critical or serious condition.
Three arrests have been made already, reported to be the owner of the Kiss nightclub and two associated with the Gurizada Fandangueira band, which was performing at the time.
The nightclub owner, named as Elissandro Spohr, was located in the hospital, while band vocalist Marcelo de Jesus dos Santos and stage manager Luciano Bonila were arrested in the nearby town of Mata.
Local police are also looking for a fourth person, Mauro Hofman, reported to be another of the club’s owners, who has until the end of Monday to hand himself in.
The fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning after a member of the band let off a flare while on stage, reports say.
The large number of deaths, the bodies of which are being held in a makeshift morgue in a local gym, is being attributed to the fact that the club had only one viable exit. Fire crews smashed their way through the front wall of the club to help those trapped inside to escape.
Many of the dead asphyxiated on the thick, acrid smoke produced by burning sound-proofing material; while others died after being trampled in the struggle to escape.
Those in the club included many students from the local Federal University of Santa Maria, UFSM, who were holding a party for freshmen ahead of the beginning of the academic year.
Three days of national mourning have been announced; there will be thirty days of mourning in Santa Maria, where the first funerals have also been held on Monday.
The fire was the deadliest in Brazil in over fifty years: in 1961, 503 people died in a fire at the Brazilian Grand Circus, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro state.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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