A march held in tribute to the victims of the Kiss
nightclub fire. REUTERS/Stringer
Cities across Brazil are beginning to crack down on
nightclubs to ensure they comply with fire regulations
following a weekend blaze that killed 231 people at a club in
the southern university town of Santa Maria.
The fire was Brazil's deadliest in half a century and
resonated across the country, with many people demanding
those responsible be prosecuted and that the government
tighten up on safety.
Brazilians are outraged at what they see as lax regulation
and corrupt officials whose oversights led to the tragedy.
There are fears similar fires could happen at other clubs and
public venues, especially as the country gears up to host the
World Cup of soccer next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.
Sensitivity is also growing because Brazil is in the runup to
next month's Carnival celebrations. The event routinely
features throngs of unruly revelers in parades and street
parties in cities across the country.
As funerals and an official investigation proceed, government
officials and lawmakers are scrambling to press for tougher
laws. President Dilma Rousseff, who visited grief-torn Santa
Maria over the weekend, urged local officials on Monday for
more rigor in enforcing safety regulations.
Cities across the country quickly responded.
"We were all evidently shocked by the Santa Maria tragedy,"
Bosco Saraiva, the acting mayor of Manaus, a city of 2
million people in the Amazon region, said in a telephone
interview. "Yesterday we started a total cleanup."
The campaign featured sudden club inspections and city
authorities closed 17 because of fire hazards and expired
permits. Americana, a city in the southeastern state of Sao
Paulo, issued a blanket order on Tuesday for all nightclubs
to shut down temporarily while new safety standards are
Brasilia and other cities including Salvador, Niteroi,
Curitiba and Porto Alegre have also deployed inspectors. In
Salvador, Brazil's third-biggest city, the mayor ordered the
inspection of all entertainment venues, including Carnival
installations now being erected.
Still, outrage over the disaster grew, manifesting itself in
a march in Santa Maria, across headlines in national
newspapers, and in countless critiques in social media.
Cries of "Justice!" rose from a crowd of 15,000 people who
marched through the center of Santa Maria on Monday night.
Marchers carried flowers to a local gym that has served as a
morgue and funeral parlor since the early Sunday fire.
Most of the 231 dead were students suffocated by toxic fumes.
Others were trampled as they stampeded toward the sole exit
of the "Kiss" nightclub, whose permits were under review.
Witnesses said bouncers initially blocked the exit because
they thought fleeing customers were trying to leave without
paying for their drinks.
Families of the victims are demanding explanations.
"Somebody has to be responsible," said Elaine Marques
Gonçalves, a mother who lost one son in the fire and has
another critically injured.
"I will not get my son's life back, but I want the
authorities to investigate and act, for the sake of other
young people," the devastated woman said in a video interview
on the website of the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper.
Police on Monday detained the owners of the club and two
members of the band for questioning. No charges have been
filed against the four men, but prosecutors said they could
be held for up to five days.
Santa Maria's police chief, Marcelo Arigony, told local
television that authorities still do not know how many people
were in the club, which the fire department said was
authorized to hold up to 700 people, and whether it was over
He said there was a security camera in the club, but there
was no evidence it was working.
Experts say Brazilian safety laws seem sufficient on paper
but that enforcement is weak and codes can vary from state to
state. Marco Maia, speaker of Brazil's lower house of
Congress, on Monday appointed a commission to study the
possibility of a single federal law that could unify
Unless authorities act to tighten inspections on a prolonged
basis, however, a change in legislation might not make much
difference. As it is, corrupt inspectors sometimes turn a
blind eye to violations in exchange for bribes.
"Brazilians think that changing laws will solve everything,
but what needs to change is the inspection system," said
Claudio Beato Filho, head of a crime and public safety
research center at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
Without better enforcement, he said, new laws "will change