Brazil detains band, club owners after nightclub fire
Latest death toll is 231, many were students at university
Brazilian police yesterday detained the owners of the nightclub where a fire killed 231 people as well as two band members whose pyrotechnics they say triggered the blaze as the focus turned to finding those responsible for the tragedy.
No charges were filed against the four men, but prosecutors said they could be held for up to five days as police pressed them for clues as to how the fire early on Sunday morning could have caused so many deaths.
Stunned residents in the southern city of Santa Maria began attending a marathon of funerals in the pre-dawn hours of Monday. Many of the dead were university students who knew each other.
Coffins, many draped with flags of the victims’ favourite soccer teams, lined a gymnasium that has been used as a makeshift morgue.
Most of the dead were suffocated by toxic fumes that rapidly filled the Kiss nightclub after the band set off a flare at about 2.30am on Sunday, authorities said.
The club’s operating license was in the process of being renewed after expiring last year, and witnesses said bouncers initially blocked the only functioning exit because they believed fleeing customers were trying to skip out on their bar tabs.
Tarso Genro, governor of the prosperous southern state of Rio Grande do Sul where the disaster occurred, said police had taken the men into custody to ensure “this will never happen again.”
Genro said authorities’ focus had shifted from rescue and taking care of the wounded to investigating the scene.
“We’re going to find out who was responsible,” he vowed.
The death toll was revised down to 231 from 233 as officials said some names had been counted twice. Eighty-two people remained hospitalised, at least 30 of them in serious condition. The tragedy came as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and 2016 Olympics, putting its safety standards and emergency response capabilities in the international spotlight. President Dilma Rousseff visited the scene, visibly upset, on Sunday.
Relatives and friends of thedead demanded accountability, signalling the start of a wave of police probes, lawsuits and recriminations that could drag on for months or even years.
“We can’t trust in the ability of city hall, or the police, or anybody who permits a party with more than a thousand people under these conditions,” said Erica Weber, who was accompanying her daughter to a funeral for one of her classmates.
Based on testimony from more than 20 witnesses, investigators are now certain that the band’s pyrotechnics show triggered the blaze, said police official Sandro Meinerz. He added that initial reports that the club was operating beyond its capacity of 1,000 people were likely false.
“Witnesses said the club wasn’t as full as it had been in previous weeks, which surely avoided an even greater tragedy,” Meinerz said.
The band’s guitarist, Rodrigo Lemos Martins, 32, said he doubted the band was responsible for the blaze. “There were lots of wires (in the ceiling), maybe it was a short circuit,” Folha de S.Paulo newspaper quoted him as saying.
The band’s accordion player, Danilo Jaques, 30, was among those killed but the other five members survived.