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BUCHAREST, Romania — Survivors of a deadly nightclub fire and stampede in Romania say the lead singer of the heavy metal band on stage first made a joke about the fire before it engulfed the basement club in downtown Bucharest.
Hundreds of young people had gone clubbing at the hip Colectiv nightclub on Friday to enjoy a free concert by the Goodbye to Gravity metal band. The evening ended in horror, as the inferno caused a panic that killed 27 people and injured 180 others.
Around 146 people remained hospitalized Saturday, some in critical condition suffering from burns and smoke inhalation. Officials expect the death toll to rise in what is the worst disaster of its kind ever in Romania.
Premier Victor Ponta cut short a visit to Mexico to return to Bucharest and declared three days of mourning for the victims starting immediately.
By Saturday afternoon, four of the dead had still not been identified, media reported. TV stations posted a number for families to call to find out information.
An Italian woman, two Spanish citizens and a German man were among the injured, the Romanian Intelligence Agency said.
Witnesses told Antena 3 TV that between 300 and 400 mostly young people had been at the club, housed in a former factory, when a pyrotechnical show went awry. They said there was only one exit.
Club-goers told Digi 24 television that a spark on stage ignited some polystyrene decor. Photos posted on social media appeared to show a flame emanating from a pillar covered in foam insulation as those in the audience applauded the band.
Shooting candles and indoor fireworks are common in bars and restaurants in Romania and fire regulations can be lax.
Delia Tugui, a Spanish teacher at the American International School of Bucharest who was at the concert with her husband and son, said club-goers were surprised by how fast the fire spread and panicked.
"The lead singer made a quick joke: 'This wasn't part of the program.' The next second, he realized it wasn't a joke and asked for a fire extinguisher," she wrote on her Facebook page. "In 30 seconds... the fire spread all over the ceiling. People rushed to the entrance but it was too narrow, and people panicked."
"Friends were looking for each other under the pile of people. Asking 'Is it you? Where are you? I can't see you. Is that your arm?' It was a nightmare."
She said she knew some would not escape.
"I realized that those on the other side of the bar would not get out alive."
Goodbye to Gravity's bass guitarist Vlad Telea and another guitarist, Mihai Alexandru, were among the 27 dead, Mediafax news agency reported, citing the band's record label Universal Music Romania. Lead singer Alex Pascu and two other band members were hospitalized with serious injuries.
General Prosecutor Tiberiu Nitu said prosecutors are probing what happened. Police spent all night in the club investigating the incident and questioning the club's owners.