Most of the victims were suffocated by toxic fumes that filled the night club after sparks from pyrotechnics used for visual effects set fire to soundproofing on the ceiling, Reuters reports.
“Smoke filled the place instantly, the heat became unbearable,” survivor Murilo Tiescher, a medical student, told reporters. “People could not find the only exit. They went to the toilet thinking it was the exit and many died there.”
Reports from firemen claim that one exit was locked and that club security guards initially tried to block people from exiting the club. However, the security staff relented immediately after they noticed flames engulfing the ceiling.
Survivors and the police inspector Marcelo Arigony explained that Brazilian bars routinely make partygoers pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.
But Arigony said the guards didn’t appear to block fleeing patrons for long. “It was chaotic and it doesn’t seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died,” he told reporters.
Later, firefighters responding to the blaze initially had trouble getting inside the Kiss nightclub because “there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance,” Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city’s fire department, told the media.
According to local authorities, band members who were on the stage when the fire set later confirmed they did use pyrotechnics during their show.
Police inspector Sandro Meinerz, who is familiar with the case, said one band member died as he returned inside the building to save his accordion. The other band members successfully escaped as they were the first to notice the fire.
“It was terrible inside – it was like one of those films of the Holocaust, bodies piled atop one another,” said Meinerz. “We had to use trucks to remove them. It took about six hours to take the bodies away.”
The party was organized by students from the Federal University of Santa Maria. Such organized university parties are common throughout Brazil, The Huffington Post explains.
“There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic, and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead,” survivor Luana Santos Silva said.
The woman revealed that fire spread so fast that firefighters and ambulances could do little to stop it.
Guitarist Rodrigo Martins said that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, started playing at 2:15 a.m. “and we had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning.”
“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,” he said.
“When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn’t working.”
Police Maj. Cleberson Braida Bastianello reported that the death toll reached 233 people with the death of a hospitalized victim.
He went on, predicting that the toll was likely made worse as the nightclub appeared to have just one exit through which patrons could exit.