A nightclub fire killed at least 233 people in southern Brazil on Sunday when a band’s pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze and fleeing partygoers stampeded toward blocked exits in the ensuing panic.
Most of those who died were suffocated by toxic fumes that rapidly filled the crowded club after sparks from pyrotechnics used by the band for visual effects set fire to soundproofing on the ceiling, local fire officials said, Reuters reports.
Firemen said one exit was locked and that club bouncers, who at first thought those fleeing were trying to skip out on bar tabs, initially blocked patrons from leaving. The security staff relented only when they saw flames engulfing the ceiling.
The tragedy in the university town of Santa Maria in one of Brazil’s most prosperous states comes as the country scrambles to improve safety, security and logistical shortfalls before the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics, both intended to showcase the economic advances and first-world ambitions of Latin America’s largest nation.
In Santa Maria, a city of more than 275,000 people, rescue workers and weary officials wept alongside family and friends of the victims at a gymnasium being used as a makeshift morgue.
President Dilma Rousseff cut short an official visit to Chile and flew to Santa Maria, where she wept as she spoke to relatives of the victims, most of whom were university students.
“All I can say at the moment is that my feelings are of deep sorrow,” said Rousseff.
Brazil has canceled an event launching the 500-day countdown to its hosting of the 2014 World Cup because of a devastating fire in southern Brazil that killed 233 people and injured more than 100. The event was scheduled to be held Monday in the capital, Brasilia, teh Voice of America reports.