Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brazil nightclub owner says 'whole country' to blame for fire

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SANTA MARIA, Brazil -- The owner of a nightclub in southern Brazil where more than 230 people died in a fire last weekend deflected blame to "the whole country," as well as to architects and inspectors charged with making sure the building was safe, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney 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 likely started when a country music band performing at the Kiss nightclub in the college town of Santa Maria lit a flare, which ignited flammable 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 an 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 20-20," he said, stressing that public officials had signed off on the club.

The number of injured jumped to 143 Wednesday 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 also claimed another life late Tuesday, raising the death toll to 235, as a 25-year-old man with burns covering 70 per cent of his body died. The man's older brother was also killed in the fire and buried on Sunday. Their grieving mother, Eliane Goncalves, had pinned her hopes on her younger son making a recovery.

"When they went out at night, I blessed them," Goncalves said. "I asked myself how I would be able to sleep with both of my boys out. But what could I do, follow them? God bless them."

On Wednesday, a young tagger sprayed oversized white graffiti reading "justice for all" on the facade of the club as onlookers cheered and police watched from below, Brazilian media reported.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 A17

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