The blaze, which also injured over 100 people, occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday at the Kiss nightclub in the city Santa Maria.
Most of the victims, including attendees of a local university’s party, were said to have died from smoke inhalation. Some of the victims also died of asphyxiation caused by a stampede of club attendees.
"There was so much smoke and fire, it was (a) complete panic and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead," survivor Luana Santos Silva told Brazil’s Globo TV network.
The cause of the fire is unknown though several eyewitnesses said that it might have been caused by a flare lit on stage by the Gurizada Fandangueira band. The group’s guitarist, Rodrigo Martins, claimed that the blaze “might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. It's harmless, we never had any trouble with it”.
Other eyewitness accounts alleged that the club’s security guards blocked the emergency exits since they erroneously believed that the crowds were trying to escape a fight.
“(The guards) blocked a lot for several minutes, I don’t know how many. But you could’ve been dead or alive within one minute,” said one witness.
Another factor leading to such a high death toll may have been that the nightclub was overcapacity. As many as 2000 people may have been crammed into the club even though Rio Grande do Sul firefighting chief Colonel Guido Pedroso de Melo said no more than half that should have been inside.
In the meantime, some families of the deceased are trying to make sense of such a terrible tragedy:
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 local gymnasium being used as a makeshift morgue.
"It's the saddest, saddest day of my life," said Neusa Soares, the mother of one of those killed, 22-year-old Viviane Tolio Soares. "I never thought I would have to live to see my girl go away."President Dilma Rousseff cut short her presence at a summit of Latin America and European Union representatives in Chile.
“I would also like to say to the Brazilian people and to the people of Santa Maria that we stand together at this time, and that even though there's a lot of sadness, we will pull through,” she tearfully said before returning to Brazil.
The Santa Maria government declared thirty days of mourning while Rio Grande do Sul officials declared a one week period of mourning.
In response to the deadly fire, officials with world soccer governing body FIFA cancelled events to be held this week celebrating the upcoming 2014 World Cup. Additionally, moments of silence were observed before the start of several first division soccer matches.
The Kiss nightclub blaze could be the second-deadliest fire in Brazilian history behind a 1961 fire at a circus that killed 323 people.
In 2008 fourteen concertgoers in Quito, Ecuador were killed by a nightclub fire caused by fireworks while 194 people died in a 2004 blaze at Buenos Aires’ República Cromañón disco.
Update: The death toll from the Kiss nightclub fire on Sunday was raised to 233.
Among the identified fatalities according to Folha.com are a pair of collegiate "sweethearts", a university student from Paraguay and the accordion player for Gurizada Fandangueira who was on stage when the group's singer allegedly lit a flare that may have caused the fire.
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff declared three days of mourning nationwide in memory of the deceased. Her order came shortly after she met with relatives of the victims in Santa Maria and expressed her "feelings of deep sorrow".
Though the motive for the fire is still not entirely certain, plenty of scrutiny has been placed on the apparent lack of safety measures taken at the Kiss nightclub. As we mentioned above, the locale may have been dangerously above capacity and bouncers might have prevented attendees from fleeing the rapidly spreading inferno. Rio Grande do Sul firefighting chief Colonel Guido Pedroso de Melo noted that the club was authorized to be opened despite numerous safety violations including alledgedy locking the exit to prevent concertgoers from leaving.
Management for the Kiss nightclub issued a statement via Facebook lamented the incident yet claimed that their employees are "properly trained and prepared for any contingency situation." The statement also said that management would help authorities with their investigation.
Video Source– YouTube via Associated Press
Online Sources including Update– BBC News, Folha.com, History.com, CNN, USA TODAY, CBS News, La Nacion, Reuters, MSNBC, El Tiempo, El Espectador,