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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before