Published on 27 Jan 2013 Sections ,

Brazil nightclub fire: at least 232 people feared dead

A band’s pyrotechnic show is believed to be the cause of a fire at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, which has killed hundreds of people. Patrons were reportedly unable to find emergency exits.

Local officials have confirmed 232 patrons have been killed, and they feared the toll would rise. Bodies are still being removed from the nightclub.

Major Gerson da Rosa Ferreira, leading the rescue efforts at the scene for the military police, said that victims died of asphyxiation or from being trampled, and that there were possibly as many as 500 people inside the club when the fire broke out at about 2:30 a.m.

Luiza Sousa, a civil police official in Santa Maria, said the blaze started when a member of the band or its production team ignited a flare, which then set fire to the ceiling. The fire spread “in seconds,” Sousa said.

Television footage showed people sobbing outside the club, while shirtless firefighters used sledge hammers and axes to knock down an exterior wall to open up an exit.

“It was really fast. There was a lot of smoke, really dark smoke,” Aline Santos Silva, 29, told Globonews TV. “We were only able to get out quickly because we were in a VIP area close to the door.”

President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile and is returning to Brazil following the blaze.