Brazil nightclub fire leaves at least 232 dead

Sao Paulo, Brazil (CNN) – A fire swept through a popular nightclub in southern Brazil on Sunday, killing at least 245 people, state media reported, citing police.

The death toll was expected to climb as firefighters continued to pull bodies from the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, said Col. Adilomar Silva, the regional coordinator of civil defense.

Most of those killed appeared to have died of smoke inhalation, Silva said. Hundreds are believed to have been injured, though an exact count was not immediately available.

Many people were trampled in the panic to leave the club, one security guard told CNN affiliate Band News.

Families and friends searching for information were outside a nearby sporting complex, where bodies were taken for identification, the state-run Agencia Brasil reported.

Police described it as the worst tragedy ever to affect Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state, Band News said.

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About 2,000 people were inside the club when the fire broke out — double the maximum capacity of 1,000, said Guido de Melo, a state fire official.

The fire started at about 2 a.m. after the acoustic insulation in the Kiss nightclub caught fire, Silva said.

There was a pyrotechnics show going on inside the club when the fire started. Authorities stopped short of blaming it for the blaze, saying the cause was still under investigation.

The incident called to mind a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island where pyrotechnics used by the heavy metal band Great White ignited a blaze that killed more than 90 people.

Pyrotechnics were also involved in a 2004 night club fire in Argentina that killed 194 people and a 2009 explosion at a night club in Russia that left more than 100 dead.

The Kiss nightclub is popular with young people in Santa Maria, drawing between 2,000 and 3,000 people a night on the weekends.

The blaze broke out during a weekend when students were celebrating the end of summer. Students at many Brazilian universities return to school on Monday.

Santa Maria is home to the Federal University of Santa Maria as well as a number of other private universities and colleges.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has been in Chile for a regional summit, was expected to come to Rio Grande do Sul, the state government said in a statement.