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In aftermath of nightclub fire, some Brazilians question 'culture of impunity'

Safety consultants say the lack of sprinklers, adequate illumination, smoke detectors, and fire exits is tragically common in Brazil. 

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Police officers stand at the entrance of the Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil, Monday. Some 233 people died after smoke engulfed the nightclub during the early hours of Sunday morning.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

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Authorities buried the first victims of the Santa Maria nightclub fire this morning, and while Brazil is still in shock over its worst disaster in more than half a century, some are shifting their focus toward the investigation and future prevention.

There is widespread hope that Brazil can overcome its long-standing culture of impunity and bring those responsible to justice.

Some 233 people died after smoke engulfed the Kiss disco in southern Brazil during the early hours of Sunday morning. More than 100 people are still hospitalized, 80 of them in serious condition, Brazil’s Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said.

Police, based on numerous eyewitness accounts, believe the fire was started on accident by the live band on stage. Over-size sparklers ignited the highly flammable acoustic foam that lined the ceiling and within minutes the club was engulfed in smoke. The vast majority of those who didn’t make it out in time died from asphyxiation.

Those errors, allied to inadequate emergency lighting and insufficient emergency exits inside the club, are similar to those that caused other deadly nightclub fires, including the famous 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, which killed 100 people.

Safety consultants say the lack of sprinklers, adequate illumination, smoke detectors, and fire exits is tragically common in Brazil.

“This club got absolutely everything wrong,” says Orlando dos Santos, owner of Abafire, a Brazilian fire security consultancy firm. “There are laws but they didn’t follow them.”

“That is so common,” Mr. dos Santos says. “Here in São Paulo I’ve seen big companies, multinationals, hotel chains, shopping centers and even hospitals and they don’t have the proper security procedures in place.”

Corruption, dos Santos says, was one of the main reasons, along with a lack of trained personnel to check safety installations and make sure they meet requirements.

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