Cell phones left in the club ring, go unanswered amid the ruins
The club's license had expired in August and had not been renewed
At least 80 of those killed were students at the Federal University of Santa Maria
Workers combing through the charred wreckage of Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil on Sunday encountered the eerie sound of ringing cell phones.
Glauber Fernandes, a reporter from CNN affiliate Band News, explains.
“It was a really complicated scene. A lot of smoke, a lot of shoes that was left, cell phones, because everybody tried to get out of there running,” he said. “While we were there, we saw the cell phones were ringing. It was parents, friends, trying to know about what was happening and nobody was answering.”
A fire swept through the packed, popular nightclub in Santa Maria early Sunday, killing at least 233 people – enough to fill a large plane – Brazilian Health Minister Alexandro Padilha told reporters. Of those, 185 have been identified so far.
Many apparently died from smoke inhalation. Others were trampled in the rush for the exits, one security guard told Band News.
More than 90 people were hospitalized, Padilha said, including 14 patients with severe burns.
About 2,000 people were inside the club when the fire broke out – double the maximum capacity of 1,000, said Guido de Melo, a state fire official.
Investigators have received preliminary information that security guards stopped people from exiting the club, he told Globo TV.
“People who were inside the facility informed us … that security guards blocked the exit to prevent people there from leaving, and that’s when the crowd starting panicking, and the tragedy grew worse,” he said.
The fire started “from out of nowhere” on a stage at the club and quickly spread to the ceiling, witness Jairo Vieira told Band News.
“People started running,” survivor Luana Santos Silva told Globo TV. “I fell on the floor.”
There was a pyrotechnics show going on inside the club when the fire started. Authorities stopped short of blaming it for the blaze, saying the cause was still under investigation.
The Kiss nightclub is popular with young people in Santa Maria, which is home to a number of universities and colleges, including the Federal University of Santa Maria. At least 80 of those killed Sunday were students at that school, it said.
The blaze broke out during a weekend when students were celebrating the end of summer. Many universities are set to resume classes on Monday.
Video from the scene showed firefighters shooting streams of water at the club and shirtless men trying to break down a wall with axes.
Smoke billowed outside the front of the building as the stench of fire filled the air, said Max Muller, who was riding by on his motorbike when he saw the blaze.
Muller recorded video of a chaotic scene outside the club, which showed emergency crews tending to victims and dazed clubgoers standing in the street. Bodies lay on the ground beside ambulances.