Brazil nightclub owner says he wishes he had never been born as he blames fire that killed 235 on inspectors

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Lack of safety measures is a problem across country, says Elissandro Spohr

Santa Maria

The owner of a nightclub in southern Brazil where more than 230 people died in a fire last weekend has said he wishes he had never been born, and has deflected blame to architects, safety inspectors and “the whole country”, according to his lawyer.

Jader Marques said his client, Elissandro Spohr, "regretted having ever been born" because of his grief over the fire, but still blamed Sunday's tragedy on "a succession of errors made by the whole country."

Police investigating the blaze have said it is likely to have started when a country music band performing at the Kiss nightclub in the college town of Santa Maria lit a flare, which ignited soundproofing foam on the ceiling. That initial error was compounded by the near-total lack of emergency infrastructure such as a fire alarms or sprinkler systems, police have said. The club also had only one working door and a faulty fire extinguisher.

Marques insisted in a phone interview with the Associated Press that "my client's responsibility is having trusted too much in the inspectors and in those responsible for the construction."

"Hindsight is 50-50," he said, stressing that public officials had signed off on the club.

The number of injured jumped to 143 today after 22 people were admitted to hospitals with respiratory problems after having escaped the club apparently unharmed. Brazil Health Minister Alexandre Padilha has urged the fire's survivors to remain alert for any symptoms of so-called "chemical pneumonia," which can take up to three days to develop following exposure to toxic fumes and smoke.

The blaze claimed another life late yesterday, raising the death toll to 235, as a 21-year-old man with burns covering 70 per cent of his body succumbed to his wounds. Brazilian media reported that the man's brother was also killed in the fire.

Police detained Spohr, the club's other co-owner and two musicians who were playing in the club when the fire broke out, and are holding them for five days as part of the investigation. Spohr is in police custody at a hospital in a nearby town, where he's recovering from a respiratory infection and is said to be suffering from depression.

Lilian Caus, one of the officers watching Spohr, said he had made a suicidal gesture, removing a shower hose and tying it to a bathroom window on Tuesday.

"By the way it was tied it looked like he wanted to use it to hang himself by the neck, but he didn't even use it," Caus said. "There seems to have been the intention to use it."

Marques denied reports that overcrowding helped cause Sunday's tragedy, insisting there were only 600 to 700 people in the club at any one time. Capacity for the 615-square-meter (6,650-square-foot) nightspot stood at less than 700, though the band's guitarist told media that the space was packed with an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people. Police have given the same estimate.

Marques insisted that any higher tallies of people at the club that night were due to club-goers cycling in and out.

The tragedy raised questions about the reliability of safety regulations in a nation set to host the World Cup and Olympic Games. Documents obtained by The Associated Press, including past building and fire safety plan permits issued to the club, showed that the single exit, the foam insulation and other contributors to the tragedy didn't violate laws.

"Do I agree with the fact that there was only one exit? No," said Maj. Gerson Pereira, an inspector with the local fire department. "Do I agree that the roof was covered with flammable material? No, I don't. I would have liked to shut down this place, but then the firefighters could be sued [because no law had been broken]."

The same documents show that other regulations were broken, including irregularities in the fire safety inspection of the club, as well as pyrotechnics used by the band that police say should not have been set off indoors. Police inspectors say any of the violations was reason enough to shut the club down.

One document shows the club had already been labeled by fire officials a "medium" risk for a fire. By state law, that designation requires the club undergo annual inspections, but records show that the last inspection took place in August 2011.

Survivors have said the club's fire extinguishers failed to work in early attempts to battle the blaze. Under state law, an extinguisher must have a receipt showing that it had been independently inspected within a year.

Marcelo Arigony, the lead police investigator in the case, said Tuesday that it was clear the fire extinguishers had not been inspected and that they were clearly cheap models that should not be used anywhere.

"It's not that this club was working to come within this or that law - the place should have never been open in the first place," Arigony said. "This is a problem that is seen across Brazil, these laws. I can only hope this tragedy brings about change."

Jaime Moncada, a US-based fire-safety consultant with nearly three decades experience in Latin America including large projects in Brazil, said he was not surprised that one exit was permissible under local law.

Shown a blueprint of the club obtained by the AP, he calculated that the farthest point from the front door was 105 feet (32 meters), and regulations in most Brazilian states dictate that a second exit is required only if the distance is 131 feet (40 meters) or more.

For the same reason of distance, Moncada said sprinklers and alarms would not be required.

"For an American audience, it is crazy to think that a place would have only one exit," he said.

In Brazil, he added, that would be the norm.

Amid the shock of what was the world's deadliest nightclub fire in a decade, changes in Brazil seemed on the horizon.

In Brasilia, the nation's capital, lawmakers in the lower house worked on a proposal that would require federal safety minimum standards across Brazil. Now states individually create such laws. The newspaper O Globo reported on its website that the mayor's office in Santa Maria ordered all nightclubs closed for 30 days while inspections are carried out.

Elsewhere, the government of the country's biggest city, Sao Paulo, set to host the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, promised tougher security regulations for nightclubs.

Outraged citizens in Santa Maria are demanding change.

Elise Parode, an 18-year-old student taking part in a protest before City Hall, chanted with all her might along with about 500 others, pushing up against the door of the building as municipal guards kept them from entering.

"We want justice! We want the government held accountable, just like the owners of the bar!" she yelled as the crowd around held aloft poster-size photos of the fire's victims. "Our own government doesn't know the laws - we're not safe until they do."

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific