A fire swept through a crowded Buenos Aires nightclub during a rock concert, killing at least 174 people and injuring more than 360 as young concertgoers scrambled for the exits...
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A flare lit during a rock concert ignited the foam ceiling of a Buenos Aires nightclub packed with teenagers, starting an inferno that killed 175 people, many of them teens, and injured more than 600, officials and witnesses said Friday.
An emergency exit in the building was believed to have been locked to prevent people from coming in without paying — leaving the club’s main entrance as the only way in or out, said Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra.
Grieving parents crowded the city’s morgues to identify the dead after the blaze swept through the Republica de la Cromagnon disco in the Argentine capital late Thursday, setting off a stampede for the exits, witnesses said.
Argentine media reported as many 1,500 people were believed to have been in the disco, whose name means Cromagnon Republic. Fans attending rock concerts in Argentina frequently light flares and fireworks.
The fire unleashed thick clouds of black smoke, choking many inside and blocking out emergency lighting, survivors said.
“Someone from the crowd tossed a flare and there were immediately flames,” said Fabian Zamudeo, a 22-year-old in the crowd to see the popular Argentine rock band Los Callejeros.
“Parts of the roof started falling down in flames and people started running, knocking over the speakers and light stands. People were choking on smoke and I tried to push as many people out as I could.”
Another survivor, who identified himself only as Juan, said, “You couldn’t see anything, the air was thick with smoke.”
Julia Salinas, an official with Buenos Aires emergency services department, said at least 175 people were killed and 619 were injured.
Many of the dead were believed to have suffered from smoke inhalation, said Mariano Tili, a Buenos Aires city official helping in the rescue effort.
Ibarra confirmed the cause of the blaze Friday, calling the lighting of a flare in a closed environment “an irresponsible act.”
Minutes after the fire broke out, shirtless concertgoers charged out of the building, many carrying people on their shoulders.
“People were pushing and jumping over each other trying to get out,” another concertgoer, Jose Maria Godoy, said. “It was like a human wave. As people fell down running for the door, others just simply ran over them or pushed them down.”
In a 2003 nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., that killed 100 people, authorities said the blaze began when sparks from a band’s pyrotechnics ignited highly flammable foam used in the club as soundproofing.
Overnight, relatives gathered outside Buenos Aires hospitals, seeking information about missing loved ones. Hospital officials shouted out the names of the injured as large crowds swarmed hospital entrances.
Hundreds of bystanders and relatives stood outside the nightclub as rescue workers carried the wounded away on stretchers. Others could be seen treating the injured on the street in front of the club.
As firefighters battled the flames, some kids — many dazed and covered in soot — milled outside, screaming out the names of friends, hoping to find them.
Ambulances packed with six or seven people ferried the injured to hospitals and officers converted police vans into makeshift ambulances as the number of injured and dead rose.
After the blaze was brought under control Friday morning, rescue workers turned a nearby parking lot into a temporary morgue, lining up dozens of bodies whose faces were covered by T-shirts.
Streets outside the nightclub in downtown Buenos Aires were lined with stray pairs of tennis shoes and strewn with blackened clothes — remains of a chaotic scene that saw hordes of people barreling their way out of the building.
“This is a true disaster … particularly with so many young people and kids inside,” Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez said.
The fire was the worst in South America since a blaze swept a Paraguayan supermarket in August, killing 434 people in an Asuncion suburb. Authorities later said the doors were ordered shut by the store’s owners to prevent looting, trapping people inside.