By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – At least 232 people have died in a nightclub fire in central Rio Grande do Sul, police have said. A band’s pyrotechnics reportedly started the blaze at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria at 2:30 AM Saturday night.
Police finished removing bodies from the scene late Sunday morning, Folha de São Paulo reported. In addition to the 232 confirmed dead by military police, 48 people are injured and receiving treatment.
Many people died after inhaling toxic fumes; and scores of people suffocated or were trampled as they fled the scene. Local media have reported that the club had only a single exit and panic spread as people tried to get out.
Firefighters had to cut a hole in the wall of the nightclub to access victims and extinguish the fire. Footage on Globo TV showed people crying outside, while firefighters knocked down walls to gain access using sledgehammers.
“It was really fast. There was a lot of smoke, really dark smoke,” survivor Aline Santos Silva, 29, told Globo TV. “We were only able to get out quickly because we were in a VIP area close to the door.”
This is the second biggest fire Brazil has seen. In 1961, 503 people died in a fire at the Brazilian Grand Circus, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro state.
President Dilma Rousseff, who was attending the summit of Latin American countries and the European Union in Santiago, Chile, has cancelled her schedule to return to Brazil because of the blaze.
“I would like to say to the population of our country and of Santa Maria (RS) that we are all together right now,” she said, tearfully, in an interview outside her hotel in Santiago.
Rousseff said that ministers are mobilized to provide assistance to the victims and families involved in the tragedy.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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