175 die in Argentina club fire

Published January 1, 2005

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 31: A fire tore through a night club packed with young revellers celebrating New Year holidays, killing at least 175 people as a stampeding crowd was trapped by locked exit doors, officials said on Friday.

At least 619 people were injured in the blaze, thought to have been caused by a flare fired into the club's ceiling during a rock concert, sending burning debris onto the crowd of up to 4,000 people who desperately fought to flee the flames and suffocating smoke.

"The fire spread in a minute and we were a mountain of people trying to escape," said survivor Ariel Monges, 25, who lost a friend and a cousin in the incident and was searching for another friend at a hospital.

The blaze, which officials called one of Argentina's worst disasters, may have claimed more victims because four of the club's six doors were tied shut with wire, according to Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez.

Mayor Anibal Ibarra said the emergency exit appeared to be shut "so that people wouldn't enter without paying" and fire fighters had to break it open. Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation.

The band playing at the Republica Cromagnon club in the neighbourhood of Once warned the crowd not to shoot flares due to the fire hazard, the mayor said. But a group fired one into the highly flammable foam ceiling.

Lists at hospitals showed that most of the victims were in their teens and 20s. But young parents also took their babies and toddlers to the night club, and one journalist reported that the women's bathroom was used as a makeshift nursery.

At daybreak, friends and relatives frantically scoured lists of patients at 14 local hospitals and searched for any scrap of information about victims, some as young as 6.

Officials said identifying victims was made harder by the fact that photo IDs were strewn on the night club floor by panicking people fighting to escape. Many people searching for friends and relatives attacked the government for not enforcing safety codes and some called for the mayor to resign. -Reuters

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