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Anger swirls after Brazil nightclub fire

As shell-shocked residents attend a series of funerals, the focus is now shifting to a barrage of police investigations.
Last modified: 28 Jan 2013 20:52
Police in Brazil have arrested the owner of the nightclub in which 231 people were killed in a fire [AFP]

We arrived late at night to Santa Maria after a four hour drive from Porto Alegre. We went straight to the gymnasium that was turned into a morgue…. The sight at the scene was terrible… Coffins, one right next to the other, were piling in the basketball court. In another room, the bodies of those who died in the nightclub fire were being cleansed so that their relatives could identify them. Everywhere there was sorrow and disbelief. People touched the coffins, some passed out, and others were sedated.

The small city of Santa Maria was shocked when a fire apparently initiated by a flare during a concert killed over 230 people. It's a university town where people from the region send their children to college. In 2004, a similar incident happened in Argentina in a discotheque called the Cromganon Republic, when a flare lit by the band killed almost 200 people. It took eight years for people to be convicted. 

It's difficult to imagine what would make a person light a firework or a flare in a closed space, and that's the same question that people here are asking themselves. 

"My brother went to a concert and he came out dead. He was 24. I don't understand how this happened. I'm thinking and thinking about it and I don't understand why?" one of the victims' relatives told me. Most of those who died, reports say, were between the ages of 16-20. Those who were underage had fake ID's to be allowed inside.

At the gymnasium, dozens of volunteers were helping out. Some came from as far as 400 kilometers away. "We came because this has never happened here before. This is sad, terrible; we need to know what happened. Whose fault is it", Olga, one of the volunteers, said.

An investigation into what happened is ongoing. People here want to know whether what happened was an accident or negligence. Authorities said that the bar owners and the public officials in charge of controlling the bar are under investigation. Some hints have started to come out. The band guitar player said that the fire extinguishers were not working. Some media reports suggested that in the confusion the security guards might have closed the doors for a while to prevent people from leaving before paying their bar bill. The owners deny all accusations.

For now people are still in shock here and their priority is laying their loved ones to rest. The time for anger, I'm guessing, will come next.

Follow Teresa Bo on Twitter: @TeresaBo