When the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil caught fire early Sunday morning, people inside the club were rushing to find an exit from the blazing building. According to an article posted by CNN, many struggled to find the exits due to the darkness and lack of exit signs. One of their sources, Max Muller, who has visited the club before, reported there were no exit signs over the doors.
The fire is said to be one of the deadliest nightclub fires reported in history, killing over 230 people and injuring hundreds. Police reported that many died from smoke inhalations or were trampled to death from the crowd trying to find there way out.
Al Kovaleski, who is earning a masters degree through the Horticultural Science Department at the University of Florida, is from Brazil. He said the party that was going on at the night club, which is located in a college town in the center of the state, was promoted by the graduating classes from five different majors to raise money for their graduation party.
“This kind of promotion is a very common practice there,” said Kovaleski, whose hometown is about six hours away from Santa Maria. “The club organizes the party and the students just have to sell the tickets.”
Those near the scene at 2 a.m. saw firefighters trying to put the fire out with water and a group of men, who attended a nearby university, trying to break down a wall with axes. Witnesses also reported that fireworks lit by the performing band members are what possibly caused the fire.
The fire spread so quickly inside the club that it was difficult for the firefighters and ambulances to stop the tragedy from happening.
“Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city’s fire department, told the O Globo newspaper that firefighters had a hard time getting inside the club because ‘there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance,’” a Huffington Post article said.
This event reminded Breanna Miele, a junior at Saginaw State University of her study abroad in Italy. She said in Italy, the clubs were always full.
“When I found out that over 200 people died and over 100 were injured, it didn’t surprise me,” said Miele. “There are just so many people packed into places like that.”
“People were running into the bathrooms and literally suffocated to death by the smoke,” said Miele. “Maybe if exit signs were displayed, those people would have found their way out.”
Kovaleski doesn’t seem to think the information about nightclubs not having exit signs is true. He said he has read about it in many news articles, mostly from news sources outside of Brazil, but places he has been to in his hometown and Porto Alege (where he attended school) had exit signs clearly indicated.
“One thing I found weird about it is that the club only had one exit,” said Kovaleski. “I have seen places being closed because of legislation requiring to have at least one emergency exit.”
It was reported that the nightclub was past its capacity of people when the fire broke out. Many articles have also said that most bodies were found in the bathrooms due the confusion of where the building’s exits were located.
The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, spoke to reporters on Sunday.
“The Brazilian people are the ones who need me today,” she said. “I want to tell the people of Santa Maria in this time of sadness that we are all together.”