Brazil fire toll passes 240

BRASILIA, Brazil - A fire swept through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing at least 245 people and leaving at least 200 injured, police and firefighters said.

At least 350 of the estimated 900 patrons at the Kiss night club of Santa Maria, Brazil were not as lucky as this woman, being treated by firefighters after she escape the inferno caused by a band's pyrotechnics. (Reuters photo)

Brazil Pol Maj Cleberson Braida told local news media that the 245 bodies were brought for identification to a gymnasium in the city of Santa Maria.

That toll apparently would make it the deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade.

Braida said the club had only one working exit, and the majority of victims died trampled in an attempt to flee.

The cause of the blaze was still under investigation but authorities told local reporters that fireworks, perhaps shot off by the band, erupted in the midst of the performance and one hit the roof.

Michele Schneid, a 22-year-old cashier, told local news media that people began to shout "Fire!" setting off the stampede.

"Many people ran for the bathrooms and wound up dying suffocated," he said.

Brazil's safety standards and emergency response capabilities are under particular scrutiny as the country prepares to host the 2014 World Cup tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The newspaper Diario de Santa Maria reported that the fire started at around 2am at the Kiss nightclub in the city at the southern tip of Brazil, near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay.

Ezekiel Corte Real, 23, was quoted by the paper as saying that he helped people to escape. "I just got out because I'm very strong," he said.

Police estimated 900 people were in the club when the fire broke out.

The fire led President Dilma Roussef to cancel a series of meetings she had scheduled at a summit of Latin American and European leaders in Chile's capital of Santiago, and was headed to Santa Maria, according to the Brazilian foreign ministry.

"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.

"Sad Sunday", tweeted Tarso Genro, the governor of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. He said all possible action was being taken and that he would be in the city later in the day.

Santa Maria is a university city with a population of around a quarter of a million.

A welding accident reportedly set off a Dec 25, 2000, fire at a club in Luoyang, China, killing 309.

At least 194 people died at an overcrowded working-class nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2004.

A blaze at the Lame Horse nightclub in Perm, Russia, broke out on Dec 5, 2009, when an indoor fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches, killing 152

A nightclub fire in the US state of Rhode Island in 2003 killed 100 people after pyrotechnics used as a stage prop by the 1980s rock band Great White set ablaze cheap soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling.

The worst such fire in Thailand came seconds after midnight on New Year's Day, 2009 at the Santika nightclub on Soi Ekamai in Bangkok, and 67 people died in that blaze - also caused by a careless pyrotechnics display by a band trying to mark the New Year's countdown.

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Writer: Agencies