Brazil buries first 80 victims of nightclub blaze: 'My two sons went to a party. Now one is in a critical state, and the other is in a coffin'

Nation witnesses an outpouring of grief as first victims of Santa Maria club fire are buried

Rio de Janeiro

The motto of Tanise Cielo, 23, a talented dance graduate who was one of the 231 young victims of the Santa Maria nightclub fire in Brazil, was "and if the music is good, you dance."

Todayat Santa Rita Cemetery, as her distraught mother clung to her mahogany-coloured coffin, decorated with a single red rose, her classmates played her favourite music and did just that.

The image of her friends dancing as her family held each other and wept was one of a torrent of poignant moments on a day the town held funerals for 80 of the victims – one every 10 minutes. "This tribute was a small comfort to my heart," her mother Vera Todatto Lopes, 52, said. "I could see that my daughter was so dear to her friends. Dancing was the thing she loved to do in life."

It was a small flutter of joy on a day the town – and country – was overwhelmed with grief. But even before the tears had dried, there was anger and calls for recriminations. Elissandro Spohr, the co-owner of the Kiss nightclub where the tragedy happened, was arrested along with Luciano Leo and Marcelo dos Jesus Santos, two members of the Gurizada Fandangueira band who were performing at the time.

The club has been accused of operating without a valid safety certificate while the band are accused of starting the fire by setting off a flare that ignited soundproofing foam on the ceiling. As the death toll was revised down from 233 to 231, a band member spoke for the first time and confirmed they used pyrotechnics during their show. Guitarist Rodrigo Martins told a radio station that the band started playing at 2.15am "and we had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning".

"It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks," he said. "It's harmless, we never had any trouble with it. When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn't working."

Within seconds, the fire had spread, filling the venue – which with about 500 people inside was only at a quarter of its capacity – with toxic smoke, which is believed to have killed 90 per cent of the victims. Those seeking to escape had only one exit to aim for, with a crowd control barrier intended to manage queues blocking the way directly outside the main door. Some of those who did make it out soon collapsed there from smoke inhalation, blocking the path of others. To make matters worse, for the first few minutes, security guards blocked the exit. In Brazil, clubbers accumulate a tab for their drinks, which they then pay at the exit.

Even so, that does not quite explain a remarkable claim by at least one police officer at the scene – that as many as 180 of the victims were found in the bathrooms of the establishment.

It has been suggested they suffered confusion brought on by smoke inhalation – or were simply trying to find a refuge from the smoke when they realised the main doors were blocked.

Soon, bodies of the dead and injured were strewn across the street. Most had died within minutes.

"It was terrible inside – it was like a Holocaust film, bodies piled atop one another," said police inspector Sandro Meinerz. "We had to use trucks to remove them. It took six hours to take them away."

Meinerz, who coordinated the investigation, said one band member, Danilo Jacques, 28, died because he returned to the building to save his accordion.

Within hours the temporary mortuary – a community sports centre – was a horror scene, with body after body lined up on the floor, partially covered with black plastic as family members identified kin. A symphony of mobile phone ringtones rang out, as loved ones desperately tried to contact their children. One mother is said to have called her child's mobile phone 104 times.

Elaine Marques Goncalves lost her son Deivis. Another son was seriously injured. "It was a party. My sons went out to a party and now one is in a coffin and one is in a critical state in hospital. Imagine the desperation of these creatures wanting to leave but they can't. My son will not come back but I demand justice, I want justice."

Others were more lucky. Mauricio Gomes, 19, and Beatriz Borba, 18, left the club minutes before the fire after she began to feel unwell. Goetterms Rafaela, 19 – like 101 of the victims, a student at the Federal University of Santa Maria – skipped going to the club to revise for an economics exam.

Three of her friends are confirmed dead and another four are missing. On hearing the news she raced to the scene. "I never, ever have seen anything like it in my life. It was the scene of a war movie," she said.

Another wave of funerals is expected tomorrow as Brazil – which has a tradition of burying its dead soon after death – continues three days of national mourning. Eventually there will be more concerted questions – for the nightclub owners, the band and the authorities. But, for now, there are just too many funerals to focus on anything else.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'