On January 27, 2012, the college town of Santa Maria, located in the middle of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, suffered a tragic fire in the nightclub Kiss. Considered the second largest fire by number of victims in Brazil, the incident claimed the lives of around 231 people, most of them young, 90% poisoned.
The fire started around 2:30 am when the band Gurizada Fandangueira was playing on stage, during a party called “Agromerados”, organized by students of the Federal University of Santa (UFSM). The lead singer of the band set off fireworks and sparks hit the ceiling. The flames spread quickly. Security guards and band members tried to put out the fire with extinguishers, without success.
At the yell of “fire” the turmoil began; a short circuit cut out the lights and without exit signs, many could not find their way out. Some ended up in the bathroom. The nightclub did not have an emergency exit: only one access point, that served as an entrance and exit. The first people to arrive at this only door encountered another barrier – the security guards, that prevented passage of the public for lack of payment. Even after the exit was opened, firemen and volunteers had to break down the walls of the nightclub to widen the passage and release some of the smoke from inside.
Acompanhei o início do fogo que veio das faíscas do sparkles e se propagou pelo teto nas esponjas do isolamento acústico. Não me apavorei porque não achei que poderia lidar com a situação, mas vi muita gente entrar em pânico, cair e desmaiar umas por cima das outras, era um mar de gente descontrolada. Vi que muita gente em crise acessou a porta mais próxima, que era a do banheiro e se alojaram lá dentro. Vi o pessoal que trabalhava se escondendo até dentro de freezers! Quando vi que não tinha mais jeito de sair pela saída principal dei a volta na área Vip e sai pela lateral empurrando e pisando por cima de muita gente, acredito que não sairia se não fosse pela força que utilizei para passar pelas pessoas, ao sair olhava para baixo e via que pisava e cruzava por cima de mulheres e homens desmaiados.
I watched the start of the fire that came from the sparks of the fireworks and spread to the ceiling on the foam of the soundproofing. I didn't freak out because I thought I could handle the situation, but I saw many people panicking, falling and fainting on top of one another, it was a sea of people out of control. I saw many people in crisis go through the closest door, which was the bathroom and stay inside. I saw people working to hide themselves even inside the freezers! Once I saw I could no longer leave through the main exit I looked around the VIP area and left through the side, pushing and stepping on a lot of people, I believe I never would have gotten out if it weren't for the force I used to get through the crowd, upon exiting I looked down and saw that I had stepped on and crossed over fainted women and men.
The narrow road and parked cars hindered the rescue. When they tried to enter, firemen encountered a barrier of bodies right inside the door – those of the victims who tried to get out. Soldiers had to clear a path in the middle of corpses to try to reach people that were still suffering. Many cell phones rang at the same time – they were family and friends seeking information.
After the drama at the club, the desperation was transferred to the Municipal Sports Center, where the bodies of the victims were taken. With a voice choked with emotion, Carlos Walau, a volunteer who helped in the task of identifying the bodies, said to the newspaper Zero Hora [pt]:
Transportei o corpo de uma menina que estava com um celular que não parava de tocar. Deu sinal de mensagem, li e era a mãe dela perguntando onde ela estava
I transported the body of a girl whose cell phone did not stop ringing. It gave the alert of a text message, I read it and it was her mother asking where she was.
The online newspaper Meio Bit made a critique of social networks through the post: Tragedy in Santa Maria – where is the power of social media? [pt] and reports the lack of sensitivity and human solidarity, as well as the quantity of “garbage” and “noise” found in a situation where the most important thing was to pass on information about what happened and how to help in the best way possible:
(…) Sempre encontramos pessoas dispostas a ajudar, divulgando links, telefones, fazendo doações e algumas se voluntariando in loco (algo que não é possível para a maioria, por questões geográficas). Mas a tal da revolução silenciosa das redes sociais passa despercebida diante da enxurrada de bobagem que circula pelas redes. Em questão de minutos, o Facebook estava inundado de montagens religiosas, de pessoas culpando e condenando o dono da boate, dizendo que a polícia agiu errado, fazendo afirmações levianas sobre um assunto que desconheciam, motivadas sabe-se lá pelo quê. Se você pretende ajudar de alguma forma, neste link estão reunidas todas as informações necessárias.
(…) There are always people willing to help, disseminating links, phones, making donations, and some volunteering on the spot (something that is not possible for most, because of geographic reasons). But the so-silent revolution of the social media goes unnoticed before the flood of nonsense that circulates through the networks. In a matter of minutes, Facebook was inundated with religious montages, of people blaming and condemning the owner of the club, saying that the police acted wrongly, making frivolous claims about a subject they knew nothing about, motivated by who knows what. If you intend to help in any way, this link [pt] contains all the necessary information.
It was found that the club's permit from the Fire Department had been expired since August of 2012. The website Direito e Trabalho (Law and Labor) published a post entitled Santa Maria or the Game of Death [pt], which points out very serious problems such as the negligence of those involved, the lack of oversight and impunity among other things:
(…) com certeza muitos serão indiciados, muitos condenados pela opinião pública, mas poucos pela Justiça. A culpada pela tragédia é a cultura do “jeitinho”, a cultura do “amanhã eu faço”, a cultura do “vamos do jeito que dá”, do “o que eu vou ganhar com isso?”, do “o que eu vou perder com isso?” E, principalmente, a nossa cultura jurídico-administrativa. A administrativa que não fiscaliza, a jurídica que não pune. (…) Agora, diante da tragédia, o que podem esperar os responsáveis? (…) O máximo que poderemos ter, após muito tempo é um processo criminal por crime culposo and a sentencing e a condenação em cestas básicas. (…)
(…) without a doubt many will be indicted, many condemned by public opinion, but few by the courts. The blame for the tragedy is on the culture of the “jeitinho”, a culture of “I'll do it tomorrow”, a culture of “let's do what we can”, of “what will I get out of it?”, of “what will I lose from this?” And most of all our legal and administrative culture. The administration that does not investigate, the law that does not punish. (…) Now, faced with this tragedy, what can we expect for those responsible? (…) The most we could have, after a long time is a criminal offence for manslaughter and a sentencing in the distribution of staple food baskets to the poor. (…)
Avaaz launched a petition [pt] to create legislation that would completely abolish the use of pyrotechnics in enclosed spaces such as nightclubs and music venues.
The World Cup and the Olympics were cited on the BBC website [pt]. On the site, the network editor in São Paulo, Gary Duffy, says that the events should put more pressure on the Brazilian government to increase safety and supervision of public spaces.