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Mourners call for justice after Brazil fire

As families bid farewell to their loved ones, investigators have turned to whether key evidence has been hidden.
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2013 20:11

Thousands of mourners marched through the city of Santa Maria in southern Brazil, calling for justice after one of the country's worst nightclub fires, Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reports. 

On Tuesday, Grande do Sul state's forensics department raised the number of fatalities from 231 to 234, to account for three additional victims whose names did not appear on the original list.

Across the country, football matches paused for a moment of silence to honour the dead, and pray for the 83 or so survivors, many of whom are in critical condition, suffering from severe burns and smoke inhalation.   

As the nationwide mourning period enters its second day, a police investigation has turned to whether key evidence has been hidden.

Authorities have also detained four people, including the club owners and two members of the band performing there at the time of the fire.

Police are also probing whether security cameras had recorded what happened and whether the place -- packed with college students -- was overcrowded. 

"The video cameras weren't in the nightclub (where they were supposed to be) and there was no computer with memory for storage," prosecutor Veruska Agostine told reporters.

Earlier, Elizondo reported that as many as 1,000 to 2,000, many college students, may have been inside the club when the fire broke out.

The local media are also reporting that the club's cash register, which would help determine whether the establishment was overcrowded, was not to be found. The fire alarms also did not work, witnesses claimed.  

Some survivors claimed the vocalist of the Gurizada Fandangueira band lit a firework that might have triggered the blaze.

Chaos and confusion

In the initial confusion, the security at the club, who may not have been aware of the fire, reportedly shut down the main entrance to prevent the crowd from leaving without settling their bar tabs, Al Jazeera's Elizondo said.  

According to authorities, the club had only one exit and was blocked by steel barriers that made it difficult to get out.

Some 180 bodies were found in the bathrooms, which many panicked party-goers had apparently confused with emergency exits.

Most of the victims died of smoke inhalation in their desperate bid to escape. 

Those who survived were brought to the three hospitals in Santa Maria and to the state capital of Porto Alegre, according to Elizondo. 

Ou reporter said many are suffering from respiratory problems after inhaling toxic fumes, and are breathing through ventilators.

Others with severe burns are in need of skin graft surgery, he said. Neighbouring Argentina is sending more skin grafts to the patients after the hospitals reported a shortage, due to the high number of victims. 

Asset freeze

In other developments, the state of Rio Grande do Sul where Santa Maria is located, sought to freeze the assets of both the club owners and their company.

"The aim is to ensure the right of people to guaranteed compensation," said the state's attorney general, Nilton Arnecke Maria.

Mayors of several cities, announced more stringent oversight of nightclubs during their annual meeting with President Dilma Rousseff, who urged them to ensure that such a "terrible tragedy never takes place again."

The blaze was the deadliest in Brazil since at least 1961, and also appeared to be the worst at a nightclub anywhere in the world since December 2000, when 309 people were killed at a club in Luoyang, China.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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