At least 232 people were killed by a huge fire that quickly swept through a crowded nightclub in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria early Sunday morning, reports the Associated Press. Another 117 people were being treated at hospitals after what seems to be the deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade. Police say 232 bodies were taken for identification, slightly lowering a death toll that was earlier believed to be 245. Although the cause of the fire at the Kiss club is still under investigation, it seems the blaze broke out at around 2:30 a.m. when a member of the band that was playing at the time ignited a flare. The fire quickly spread after acoustic insulation caught fire, reports the BBC.
"The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward. At that point the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak but in a matter of seconds it spread," a witness who was near the stage told a local newspaper, according to the AP.
"It was really fast. There was a lot of smoke, really dark smoke," another survivor said. Witnesses described a harrowing scene of panic that created a stampede toward the exits with many victims reportedly dying from smoke inhalation as well as the crush of people. "People started panicking and ended up treading on each other,” a fire official said. Brazil’s safety standards are under international scrutiny as the country is getting ready to host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympics, points out Reuters.
This post has been updated with new information since it was originally published.