Memorial services are being held for the 237 victims of the Santa Maria nightclub fire in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, as Brazil continues to reel in shock and horror after the country's second largest tragedy in history. The total number of people receiving treatment in the hospital remains at over 100, with more than 70 in critical condition with serious complications from smoke inhalation. The fire continues to be relived almost by the minute in the media, with new information being parsed to determine lapses in safety regulations and targets of blame. The stories of the victims, the majority of whom died from asphyxiation, collapsing in piles on top of each other, have accompanied the circulation of stories of heartbreak and anguish from families and friends.
While the treatment of the hospitalized remains a concern for the local government, the process of grieving that accompanied the days of funerals has given way to trading accusations of blame between the nightclub's owners, the city government, the security guards and the fire department's response. The owners of the club, called Kiss, have already been detained, and it's been reported that one of them attempted to commit suicide while recovering from smoke inhalation in the hospital. The police have also detained the members of the band that ignited the pyrotechnics that started the fire. One of the band members died in the fire.
City and federal governments around the country have responded to the tragedy by verifying the regulations and legal status of nightclubs. Already in Rio de Janeiro, various iconic and popular nightspots have been shut down as authorities have gone on a campaign to verify safety regulations. The city has closed 127 bars, restaurants and clubs in a matter of days.
It has been disclosed that the fire extinguisher inside Kiss did not work when members of the band tried to use it to control the fire. The smoke is said to have taken a matter of seconds because of a foaming that covered the ceiling of the club that caused the rapid diffusion of the fire. It took only minutes for asphyxiation to cause death.
While much of the attention in the domestic media has centered around the legality of the nightclubs and the possibility of lax safety regulations or enforcement, the international media has seized on the fire as an example of the continuing challenges that Brazil faces as it modernizes and grows economically. The fire took place in Brazil's most developed region, in a city historically known for its wealth, education and solid infrastructure. Similar tragedies have happened in the United States, China and Argentina.
The city of Santa Maria is already planning to build a memorial where the nightclub stands once investigations have ended. The city is a university town and officials are now struggling with when and how to resume classes and attempt to return to normal life. A graffiti artist has tagged the façade of the club with the words "Justice for All." The police were stopped from arresting the graffiti artist by the crowds outside the club, who have been gathering around the scene since the tragedy.