Sunday, March 24, 2013

Brazil: Update--Death Toll from Santa María Nightclub Fire Reaches 241, Criminal Charges Abound

According to The Latin American Herald Tribune, Brazilian police are seeking criminal charges against 16 people in connection with the January 27, 2013, nightclub fire in the southern city of Santa María that killed 241 people.

The lead investigator in the case, Marcelo Arigony, presented a report on Friday (March 22) that blames the tragedy on the owners of the Kiss nightclub, employees, a country music band that was performing at the club and firefighters responsible for carrying out inspections at the establishment.

The police are seeking murder charges against nine individuals and manslaughter charges against seven others, including Santa María Mayor Cézar Schirmer.

The fire broke out during the early morning hours when an estimated 800-900 people were inside the nightclub, whose capacity was just 600, according to investigators.

Police say flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling caught fire after one of the members of the Gurizada Fandangueira band lit a flare.

COMMENT: Autopsies on the 234 people who died inside the club showed they perished due to asphyxiation caused by carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning.

Seven others died at hospitals in Santa María and the Rio Grande do Sul state capital of Porto Alegre, the last of whom, a woman of 23, passed away on March 7.

The two owners of the nightclub and two members of Gurizada Fandangueira have been in preventive custody since the day of the fire, Brazil’s deadliest in more than a half century.

The other five who could face murder charges are the manager and two other employees of the nightclub and a pair of firefighters responsible for ensuring the establishment complied with safety regulations. Manslaughter charges are being sought against seven others.

This massive tragedy that caused the lives of 241 people, unfortunately, is indicative of life-safety hazards that prevail in so many of the world's predominantly developing countries.

Although Brazilian law enforcement is to be commended for their charging so many of those responsible who contributed to the high loss of life, the reality is that travelers and residents alike must fully understand just how vulnerable the buildings and transportation systems are in countries that have inferior building codes.

Additionally, outdated fire detection systems, ignored building safety inspections, maximum occupancy code violations and even "corner-cutting" on fire-retardant materials that are mandated or recommended are attributed to mass-casualty loss in many building fires, not to mention ill-equipped firefighters.

Finally, if any building that travelers or residents find themselves in in a developing nation that constitutes a fire hazard or overcrowding, including open flames of any type, "get out and stay away."