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No alarm, only 1 exit in Brazil nightclub fire

  • A youth holds a photograph of his sister Pamella Lopes, who died in a nightclub fire, in a public square near the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    A youth holds a photograph of his sister Pamella Lopes, who died in a nightclub fire, in a public square near the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • In this photo released by Brazil's Presidency, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, left,  speaks about a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub killing at least 245 people i a southern Brazil,  during a press conference in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile early Sunday to return home after the deadly nightclub fire. The fire killed at least 245 people and left at least 200 injured, police and firefighters said. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidency)

    In this photo released by Brazil's Presidency, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, left, speaks about a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub killing at least 245 people i a southern Brazil, during a press conference in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile early Sunday to return home after the deadly nightclub fire. The fire killed at least 245 people and left at least 200 injured, police and firefighters said. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidency)

  • A police officer places flowers outside the Kiss nightclub that were brought by mourners in memory of those who died due to a fire at the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.  A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

    A police officer places flowers outside the Kiss nightclub that were brought by mourners in memory of those who died due to a fire at the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

  • A man cries during the burial of Vinicius Rosado, who died in a nightclub fire, at a cemetery in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    A man cries during the burial of Vinicius Rosado, who died in a nightclub fire, at a cemetery in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • Gladimir Callegaro, second from right, father of fire victim Marina Callegaro and other relatives mourn during her funeral at a cemetery in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, within seconds filling the space with flames and a thick, toxic smoke that killed more than 230 panicked partygoers who gasped for breath and fought in a stampede to escape. An early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit and the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.(AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

    Gladimir Callegaro, second from right, father of fire victim Marina Callegaro and other relatives mourn during her funeral at a cemetery in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, within seconds filling the space with flames and a thick, toxic smoke that killed more than 230 panicked partygoers who gasped for breath and fought in a stampede to escape. An early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit and the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.(AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

  • A victim of a fire in a club is carried in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state,  Brazil,  early Sunday,  Jan. 27,  2013.  According to police more than 200 died in the devastating nightclub fire in southern Brazil.  Officials say the fire broke out at the Kiss club in the city of Santa Maria while a band was performing. At least 200 people were also injured.  (AP Photo/Deivid Dutra/Agencia Freelancer)

    A victim of a fire in a club is carried in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, early Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. According to police more than 200 died in the devastating nightclub fire in southern Brazil. Officials say the fire broke out at the Kiss club in the city of Santa Maria while a band was performing. At least 200 people were also injured. (AP Photo/Deivid Dutra/Agencia Freelancer)

  • Relatives and friends carry the coffins of two brothers, Pedro and Marcelo Salla, who died in a nightclub fire, as they prepare to bury them at a cemetery in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    Relatives and friends carry the coffins of two brothers, Pedro and Marcelo Salla, who died in a nightclub fire, as they prepare to bury them at a cemetery in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • A man carries an injured man, victim of a fire at the Kiss  club in Santa Maria city,  Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, early Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  Firefighters say that the death toll from a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil has risen to 180. Officials say the fire broke out  while a band was performing. At least 200 people have been injured. (AP Photo/Agencia RBS)

    A man carries an injured man, victim of a fire at the Kiss club in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, early Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. Firefighters say that the death toll from a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil has risen to 180. Officials say the fire broke out while a band was performing. At least 200 people have been injured. (AP Photo/Agencia RBS)

  • Relatives and friends dance and mourn next to the coffin during the burial of fire victim Tanise Cielo, at a cemetery in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil,  Monday,  Jan. 28, 2013. The city in southern Brazil started burying the 233 people killed in Sunday's fire at the Kiss nightclub after the conflagration caused by a band's pyrotechnic display. An early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit. And the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.(AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

    Relatives and friends dance and mourn next to the coffin during the burial of fire victim Tanise Cielo, at a cemetery in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. The city in southern Brazil started burying the 233 people killed in Sunday's fire at the Kiss nightclub after the conflagration caused by a band's pyrotechnic display. An early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit. And the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.(AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

  • Women react during a march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    Women react during a march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • Relatives of victims react as they wait for news in fron of the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria city,  Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  According to police more than 200 died in the devastating nightclub fire in southern Brazil.  Officials say the fire broke out at the club while a band was performing. (AP Photo/Ronald Mendes-Agencia RBS)

    Relatives of victims react as they wait for news in fron of the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. According to police more than 200 died in the devastating nightclub fire in southern Brazil. Officials say the fire broke out at the club while a band was performing. (AP Photo/Ronald Mendes-Agencia RBS)

  • Police investigators work at the entrance of the Kiss nightclub where a fatal fire broke out in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.  A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

    Police investigators work at the entrance of the Kiss nightclub where a fatal fire broke out in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)

  • The interior of the Kiss nightclub is burned out after a fatal fire in Santa Maria, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Roger Shlossmacker)

    The interior of the Kiss nightclub is burned out after a fatal fire in Santa Maria, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Roger Shlossmacker)

  • People gather to honor the victims of a fatal fire at Kiss nightclub in a plaza on the surroundings of the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A blaze raced through the crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing about 230 people as the air filled with deadly smoke and panicked party-goers stampeded toward the exits, police and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    People gather to honor the victims of a fatal fire at Kiss nightclub in a plaza on the surroundings of the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A blaze raced through the crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing about 230 people as the air filled with deadly smoke and panicked party-goers stampeded toward the exits, police and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • People march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    People march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • People react during a march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    People react during a march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • People march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    People march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • A girl cries during a march in a plaza near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    A girl cries during a march in a plaza near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • A youth holds a photograph of his sister Pamella Lopes, who died in a nightclub fire, in a public square near the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • In this photo released by Brazil's Presidency, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, left,  speaks about a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub killing at least 245 people i a southern Brazil,  during a press conference in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile early Sunday to return home after the deadly nightclub fire. The fire killed at least 245 people and left at least 200 injured, police and firefighters said. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidency)
  • A police officer places flowers outside the Kiss nightclub that were brought by mourners in memory of those who died due to a fire at the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.  A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)
  • A man cries during the burial of Vinicius Rosado, who died in a nightclub fire, at a cemetery in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • Gladimir Callegaro, second from right, father of fire victim Marina Callegaro and other relatives mourn during her funeral at a cemetery in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, within seconds filling the space with flames and a thick, toxic smoke that killed more than 230 panicked partygoers who gasped for breath and fought in a stampede to escape. An early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit and the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.(AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)
  • A victim of a fire in a club is carried in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state,  Brazil,  early Sunday,  Jan. 27,  2013.  According to police more than 200 died in the devastating nightclub fire in southern Brazil.  Officials say the fire broke out at the Kiss club in the city of Santa Maria while a band was performing. At least 200 people were also injured.  (AP Photo/Deivid Dutra/Agencia Freelancer)
  • Relatives and friends carry the coffins of two brothers, Pedro and Marcelo Salla, who died in a nightclub fire, as they prepare to bury them at a cemetery in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • A man carries an injured man, victim of a fire at the Kiss  club in Santa Maria city,  Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, early Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  Firefighters say that the death toll from a fire that swept through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil has risen to 180. Officials say the fire broke out  while a band was performing. At least 200 people have been injured. (AP Photo/Agencia RBS)
  • Relatives and friends dance and mourn next to the coffin during the burial of fire victim Tanise Cielo, at a cemetery in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil,  Monday,  Jan. 28, 2013. The city in southern Brazil started burying the 233 people killed in Sunday's fire at the Kiss nightclub after the conflagration caused by a band's pyrotechnic display. An early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit. And the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.(AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)
  • Women react during a march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • Relatives of victims react as they wait for news in fron of the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria city,  Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  According to police more than 200 died in the devastating nightclub fire in southern Brazil.  Officials say the fire broke out at the club while a band was performing. (AP Photo/Ronald Mendes-Agencia RBS)
  • Police investigators work at the entrance of the Kiss nightclub where a fatal fire broke out in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.  A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Nabor Goulart)
  • The interior of the Kiss nightclub is burned out after a fatal fire in Santa Maria, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.  A fast-moving fire roared through the crowded, windowless Kiss nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday, killing more than 230 people. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. (AP Photo/Roger Shlossmacker)
  • People gather to honor the victims of a fatal fire at Kiss nightclub in a plaza on the surroundings of the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. A blaze raced through the crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing about 230 people as the air filled with deadly smoke and panicked party-goers stampeded toward the exits, police and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • People march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • People react during a march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • People march near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • A girl cries during a march in a plaza near the Kiss nightclub honoring the victims of early Sunday's fatal fire inside the club in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world's worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The nightclub Kiss was hot, steamy from the press of beer-fueled bodies dancing close. The Brazilian country band on stage was whipping the young crowd into a frenzy, launching into another fast-paced, accordion-driven tune and lighting flares that spewed silver sparks into the air.

It was another Saturday night in Santa Maria, a university town of about 260,000 on Brazil’s southernmost tip.

Then, in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, it turned into a scene of indescribable horror as sparks lit a fire in the soundproofing material above the stage, churning out black, toxic smoke as flames raced through the former beer warehouse, killing 231 people.

“I was right there, so even though I was far from the door, at least I realized something was wrong,” said Rodrigo Rizzi, a first-year nursing student who was next to the stage when the fire broke out and watched the tragedy unfold, horror-stricken and helpless.

“Others, who couldn’t see the stage, never had a chance. They never saw it coming.”

There was no fire alarm, no sprinklers, no fire escape. In violation of state safety codes, fire extinguishers were not spaced every 1,500 square feet, and there was only one exit. As the city buried its young yesterday, questions were raised about whether Brazil is up to the task of ensuring the safety in venues for the World Cup next year, and the Olympics in 2016. Four people were detained for questioning, including two band members and the nightclub’s two co-owners.

Rizzi hadn’t even planned on going out that night. He was talked into it by friends and knew dozens at the club, which was packed with an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people. He said the first sign of a problem was insulation dripping above the stage.

The flames at that point were barely noticeable, just tiny tongues lapping at the flammable material. The band’s singer, Marcelo dos Santos, noticed it and tried to put out the smoldering embers by squirting water from a bottle.

The show kept going. Then, as the ceiling continued to ooze hot molten foam, dos Santos grabbed the drummer’s water bottle and aimed it at the fire. That didn’t work either, Rizzi said.

A security guard handed the band leader a fire extinguisher. He aimed, but nothing came out; the extinguisher didn’t work.

At that point, Rizzi said, the singer motioned to the band to get out. Rizzi calmly made his way to the door – the club’s only exit – still thinking it was a small fire that would quickly be controlled.

The cavernous building was divided into several sections, including a pub and a VIP lounge – and hundreds of the college students and teenagers crammed in couldn’t see the stage. They continued to drink and dance, unaware of the danger spreading above them.

Then, the place became an inferno.

The band members who headed straight for the door lived. One, Danilo Brauner, went back to get his accordion and never made it out.

The air turned dense and dark with smoke; there was no light, nothing pointing to the single exit. Rizzi found himself clawing through a panicked crowd that surged blindly toward the door.

“I was halfway across the floor, I could see the door, but the air turned black with this thick smoke,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe. People started to panic and run toward the door. They were falling, screaming, pulling at each other.”

The manager, meanwhile, was outside dealing with a drunk and belligerent young man. No one there had any inkling of the desperate scene unfolding just beyond Kiss’s black, sound-proof double doors, said taxi driver Edson Schifelbain, who was in his car, waiting for passengers.

A security guard poked his head out and said there was a fight. A fraction of a second later, someone inside yelled “Fire!” The manager opened the doors and it was like opening the gates of hell, Schifelbain said.

Young men and women, mouths and eyes blackened with soot, clothes tattered, tumbled out screaming and crying. Some ran right over his taxi and two other cabs parked nearby, breaking mirrors, windshields, bashing in the doors. Horrified, he realized his cab was in their way, but couldn’t move it because there were bodies hunched over it, collapsed in front of the tires, everywhere.

“The horror I saw in their faces, the terror, I’ll never forget,” he said. Two girls gasping for air climbed into his car, and as soon as he was able, he sped the six miles to the university hospital.

“One of them was crying all the way, screaming, ‘My friend is dying,’ ” he said. “I did what I could. I don’t know what happened to those girls.”

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