More than 100 were injured when the fire broke out at 2 a.m. in Santa Maria, Brazil, at a nightclub called Kiss, which was hosting an event for a local university. Most of the attendees were students of that school, the Federal University of Santa Maria.
Television images showed smoke pouring out of the nightclub as shirtless, young male partygoers joined firefighters in wielding axes and sledgehammers, pounding at windows and walls to break through to those trapped inside. Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately trying to find help — others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms.
“There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead,” survivor Luana Santos Silva told the Globo TV network.
Rodrigo Moura, identified by the newspaper Diario de Santa Maria as a security guard at the club, said it was at its maximum capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000, and partygoers were pushing and shoving to escape.
However, Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a professor of the medical school at the Federal University of Santa Maria who raced to the hospital to help victims said he was told the club was filled far past its capacity.
The fire may have started as a result of faulty pyrotechnics on stage during a live band performance, media outlet G1 reported.
Michele Pereira told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that she was near the stage and that the fire broke out after band members lit flares.
“The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward. At that point the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak but in a matter of seconds it spread,” Pereira said.
The group Gurizada Fandangueira, which plays a driving mixture of local Brazilian country music styles, was playing. It was not immediately clear if the band members were among the victims.
Some survivors claimed revelers tried to escape before the fire got out of control, but were held back by security guards because they had not yet paid their bar tab, according to Radio Estadao ESPN. There’s also uncertainty if there was an emergency exit and one survivor told G1 that the only exit was the front door.
“I don’t think there was an emergency exit,” Fernanda Bona told G1. Bona, who was at Kiss taking photos for the club when the fire broke out, added, “We didn’t know what was happening inside. It all happened in five minutes, not even. Five minutes after I got out, I saw a lot of panic and lots of people trying to get out. ”
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff flew back from a summit in Santiago, Chile, because of the blaze.
“We are together necessarily. We are going to make it through this tragedy,” Rousseff said.