UK & World News
Brazil Nightclub Fire: More Than 230 Dead
More than 230 people have been killed after a fire sparked a stampede in a packed nightclub in southern Brazil.
Around 117 others were injured after the blaze broke out while a band, called Gurizada Fandangueira, was performing at the Kiss club in the university city of Santa Maria.
It is thought the band may have lit flares on stage and the building's soundproofing caught fire, filling the club with acrid smoke.
Fire chief Guido de Melo said there was panic after the fire started and many revellers were trampled. He said the main cause of death was asphyxiation.
Mr Melo said that firefighters had a hard time getting inside the club because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance".
There was only one exit in the building.
One survivor Michele Pereira told a local newspaper that she was near the stage when members of the band lit flares.
"The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward," she said.
"At that point, the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak, but in a matter of seconds it spread."
The band's guitarist Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha that they started playing at 2.15am.
"We had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning," he said.
"It 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.
"When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn't working."
He confirmed that accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other members made it out safely.
Police Major Cleberson Braida Bastianello said that 233 had died and that the death toll was likely made worse because the nightclub appeared to have just one exit through which patrons could exit.
Partygoers joined firefighters in wielding axes and sledgehammers, pounding at windows and walls to break through to those trapped inside.
Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately trying to find help - others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms.
Michele Schneid, a 22-year-old cashier, told local media that people began to shout "Fire!", setting off the stampede.
"Many people ran for the bathrooms and wound up dying suffocated," he said.
Brazilian President Dilma Roussef†has cancelled a series of meetings at a summit of Latin American and European leaders in Chile's capital Santiago, and headed to Santa Maria.
"It is a tragedy for all of us. I am not going to continue in the meeting (in Chile) for very clear reasons," she said.
Santa Maria Mayor Cezar Schirmer declared a 30-day mourning period, and Tarso Genro, the governor of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, said officials were investigating the cause of the disaster.
Britain's Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire said:†"I am deeply saddened by the news of the tragic accident in Santa Maria.
"My thoughts and sincere condolences are with the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives, and I wish a swift recovery to the hundreds who are now being treated in hospital."
The blaze was the deadliest in Brazil since at least 1961, when a fire that swept through a circus killed 503 people in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro.