independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Police question band in Brazil nightclub tragedy as furious relatives of 231 dead demand answers

Relatives of the Kiss nightclub victims cry in the southern city of Santa Maria, 187 miles (301 km) west of the state capital of Porto Alegre, in this picture taken by Agencia RBS, January 27, 2013. At least 200 people were killed in the nightclub fire in southern Brazil on Sunday after a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze, and fleeing patrons were unable to find the emergency exits, local officials said. Bodies were still being removed from the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, Major Gerson da Rosa Ferreira, who was leading rescue efforts at the scene for the military police, told Reuters. Local officials said 180 people were confirmed dead, and Ferreira said the death toll would rise above 200. He said the 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. REUTERS/Germano Roratto/Agencia RBS (BRAZIL - Tags: DISASTER) NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL.ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

POLICE are questioning the band and owner of the Brazilian nightclub in which 231 people died on Sunday morning. This development comes as the relatives of the victims have demanded answers to why so many people died in the tragedy.

Several coffins, many draped with flags of the victims' favourite soccer teams, lined a gymnasium that has become a makeshift morgue since the fire in the early hours on Sunday.

The death toll was revised down overnight from 233 to 231, as officials said some names had been counted twice.

Eighty-two people remained hospitalized in and around the southern city of Santa Maria. At least 30 of them were in serious condition.

As shell-shocked residents attended a marathon of funerals starting in the pre-dawn hours on Monday, the focus began to shift to what will likely be a barrage of police investigations, lawsuits and recriminations aimed at politicians and others.

"We can't trust in the ability of city hall, or the police, or anybody who permits a party with more a thousand people under these conditions," said Erica Weber, who was accompanying her daughter to a funeral for one of her classmates.

Most of the dead were suffocated by toxic fumes that rapidly filled the Kiss nightclub after the band set off a pyrotechnics display at about 2:30 a.m, witnesses said.

State prosecutor Valeska Agostini told Reuters one of the club's owners and members of the band had been taken into police custody to answer questions although no arrests or criminal charges are likely until after the investigation is completed.

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.

It seems certain others will share the blame for Brazil's second-deadliest fire ever. The use of a flare inside the club was a clear breach of security regulations, fire officials said, and witnesses said bouncers initially tried to prevent people from fleeing from the one functioning exit because they believed they were trying to skip out on their bar tabs.

Clubs and restaurants in Brazil are generally subject to a web of overlapping safety regulations, but enforcement is uneven and owners sometimes pay bribes to continue operating.

The investigation of the Kiss fire could drag on for years. After a similar fire at an Argentine nightclub in 2004 killed 194 people, more than six years passed before a court found members of a band criminally responsible for starting the blaze and causing the deaths.

That tragedy also provoked a massive backlash against politicians and led to the removal of the mayor of Buenos Aires.

Valdeci Oliveira, a legislator in Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state where the weekend tragedy took place, said on his Twitter feed that he and his colleagues would seek to ban pyrotechnics displays in closed spaces such as nightclubs.

"It won't bring anybody back but we're going to introduce the bill," Oliveira said.

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