Argentina club fire kills at least 174
A fire swept through a crowded Buenos Aires nightclub during a rock concert, killing at least 174 people and injuring more than 410 as young concert-goers scrambled for the exits, officials said Friday.
The blaze broke out late Thursday and the building in the Argentine capital quickly filled with smoke, setting off a stampede for the emergency exits, witnesses said. Television images showed the bodies of youngsters curled up on the sidewalk as bystanders and shirtless teenagers carried people out of the smoldering building.
City officials said it wasn't immediately clear what caused the fire, but several witnesses said they saw a flare hit a foam lining on the roof of the concert hall, triggering a fire.
"Someone from the crowd tossed a flare and there were immediately flames," said Fabian Zamudeo, a 22-year-old in the crowd to see the Argentine rock band, Los Callejeros.
"Parts of the roof started falling down in flames and people started running, knocking over the speakers and light stands," he added. "People were choking on smoke and I tried to push as many people out as I could."
Alfredo Stein, an official in the Buenos Aires health department, told reporters at least 174 had been killed and more than 410 people injured.
Many of the dead died from smoke inhalation, said Mariano Tili, a Buenos Aires city official helping in the rescue effort.
Hundreds of bystanders and relatives stood outside the building as rescue workers carried the wounded away on stretchers. Others could be seen treating the injured on the street in front of the Republica de la Cromagnon disco in the Argentine capital, which is popular with teenagers.
Rescue workers turned a nearby parking lot into a temporary morgue, lining up dozens of bodies as parents rushed to the club looking for their children.
Streets outside the nightclub in downtown Buenos Aires were lined with stray pairs of tennis shoes and strewn with blackened clothes ¡ª remains of a chaotic scene that saw hordes of people pushing their way out of the building.
An unidentified youngster told the TodoNoticias television network that the heavy smoke quickly filled up the concert hall.
"We could barely see there was so much smoke," he said. "People were kicking the doors down trying to get out."
Argentine media reported as many 1,500 people were believed to have been in the building at the time, with some saying the amount could be almost twice as much.
The fire was the worst in South America since a blaze swept a Paraguayan supermarket in August, killing 399 people in an Asuncion suburb. Authorities later said the doors were ordered shut by the store's owners to prevent looting, trapping people inside.
A nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., killed 100 people and injured hundreds in February 2003. Authorities said the blaze began when sparks from a band's pyrotechnics ignited highly flammable foam that was used in the club as soundproofing.