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Disasters

Fire exposes Brazil's safety flaws

More and more tragic details are emerging about the fire that killed 231 people in a Brazilian disco this week. Safety procedures were not followed, and experts confirm that inspections in Brazil are often careless.

Fire-fighters try to extinguish a fire at Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, 187 miles (301 km) west of the state capital of Porto Alegre, in this picture taken by Agencia RBS, January 27, 2013. At least 200 people were killed in the nightclub fire in southern Brazil on Sunday after a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze, and fleeing patrons were unable to find the emergency exits, local officials said. Bodies were still being removed from the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, Major Gerson da Rosa Ferreira, who was leading rescue efforts at the scene for the military police, told Reuters. Local officials said 180 people were confirmed dead, and Ferreira said the death toll would rise above 200. He said the victims died of asphyxiation, or from being trampled, and that there were possibly as many as 500 people inside the club when the fire broke out at about 2:30 a.m. REUTERS/Germano Roratto/Agencia RBS (BRAZIL - Tags: DISASTER TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL

Brasilien Santa Maria Brand Diskothek

Brazil is in shock. On Saturday night, 231 people died at a student night at a disco in the southern university town of Santa Maria. Most of them died by asphyxiation. The band Gurizada Fandangueira had lit a flare during a pyrotechnic display in their show that apparently ignited the acoustic insulation material attached to the ceiling. Flames and highly toxic smoke filled the air in seconds.

More details came to light a day after the accident. The nightclub, named "Kiss," had failed to maintain its safety precautions - fire extinguishers did not work, and the owner of the club did not have a valid permit. The public was outraged by these facts, but experts say that such problems are widespread in Brazil.

Invalid license

"The safety checks in Brazilian discotheques and bars are inadequate," said José Roberto Bernasconi, president of the São Paulo architects and engineers' union SINAECO.

Fire-fighters try to extinguish a fire at Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, 187 miles (301 km) west of the state capital of Porto Alegre, in this picture taken by Agencia RBS, January 27, 2013. At least 200 people were killed in the nightclub fire in southern Brazil on Sunday after a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze, and fleeing patrons were unable to find the emergency exits, local officials said. Bodies were still being removed from the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, Major Gerson da Rosa Ferreira, who was leading rescue efforts at the scene for the military police, told Reuters. Local officials said 180 people were confirmed dead, and Ferreira said the death toll would rise above 200. He said the victims died of asphyxiation, or from being trampled, and that there were possibly as many as 500 people inside the club when the fire broke out at about 2:30 a.m. REUTERS/Germano Roratto/Agencia RBS

Rescue workers were ill-prepared for the fire

The "Kiss" owner's permit had lapsed in 2012 and had not been renewed. "The city administration issues the license. But before that the fire authorities and other institutions inspect the building," explained Bernasconi.

But these checks are not always carried out conscientiously. "What happened in Santa Maria could happen anywhere," he said. The many different municipalities in Brazil are often poorly structured and employ people who are not properly trained, and are thus ill-prepared to inspect a new building, or assess its terms of use. "There need to be regular checks of all licenses issued by specialists," said Bernasconi.

Poor organization

Agostinho Guerreiro, president of the Rio de Janeiro-based architects and engineers association CREA, believes the main problem lies in the organization of events. "Of course the inspections could be more rigorous," he said. "But the main thing is that the preparation for events needs to be better. Someone needs to ascertain whether fire will be used in a show, and then appropriate precautions need to be taken. On top of that, the emergency exits need to be tested. It is very regrettable that this is not yet taken for granted."

Not only was the insulation material on the ceiling of the nightclub not flame retardant, but the emergency rescue workers were not prepared for the situation. People were even prevented from fleeing the burning club by employees, because they had not yet paid their bill.

"This shows the insufficient preparations of the emergency services and the whole club," said Guerreiro. "If there had been a thoroughly worked-out emergency escape plan, there probably wouldn't have been tragedy of this proportion."

A policeman and rescue workers help a man in front of Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, 187 miles (301 km) west of the state capital of Porto Alegre, in this picture taken by Agencia RBS, January 27, 2013. At least 200 people were killed in the nightclub fire in southern Brazil on Sunday after a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze, and fleeing patrons were unable to find the emergency exits, local officials said. Bodies were still being removed from the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria, Major Gerson da Rosa Ferreira, who was leading rescue efforts at the scene for the military police, told Reuters. Local officials said 180 people were confirmed dead, and Ferreira said the death toll would rise above 200. He said the victims died of asphyxiation, or from being trampled, and that there were possibly as many as 500 people inside the club when the fire broke out at about 2:30 a.m. REUTERS/Germano Roratto/Agencia RBS (BRAZIL - Tags: DISASTER TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL

Many of the guests were prevented from fleeing

Guerreiro said that cinemas, theaters, and football stadiums in Brazil are much better prepared and organized - they had, he said, learned from past mistakes. "Trained personnel need to be on hand especially where young people gather and alcoholic drinks are served," he added.

Strict rules, poor enforcement

It is not the case that Brazil has no safety regulations. Indeed, the rules that govern the prevention and fighting of fires are very strict. The Brazilian National Standards Organization (ABNT) lists more than 60 rules that need to be followed during the construction of a new building.

"For example, you cannot have just one exit, there must be emergency exits and escape doors," said Bernasconi. "It makes sense to have at least one extra exit that is big enough for the number of people who would normally be in the building. But the reality is different - "Kiss" had only one emergency exit, it was reportedly locked.

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