IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'I felt her heart stop beating': Survivor recalls Brazil nightclub horror

Updated at 8 p.m. ET: The day after the Brazil nightclub fire, Mattheus Bortolotto described what he experienced to a local television station: "The emergency exits did not work, and then I lost my friend in the confusion. Then a girl died in my arms. I felt her heart stop beating."

Revelers were celebrating the end of summer late Saturday at the club in Santa Maria when a band’s pyrotechnic display set fire to the soundproofed ceiling and started a fire that claimed 233 lives. Dozens choked to death, and dozens more were trampled in the panic that followed.

The fire appears to have taken a devastating toll on a nearby university: Almost half the victims had ties to the school, many of them there for a party organized by students at Federal University of Santa Maria.

The Federal University of Santa Maria said Monday that 114 people who died at the Kiss nightclub on Saturday night were students, graduates or dropouts. Most of the students killed had just started at the school.

The school said that its Center for Rural Sciences had lost the most students, 64. Among them were 26 agronomy students and 15 studying to be veterinarians. A notice on the school’s website Monday said that classes would be suspended at least through Feb. 1. About 27,000 students are enrolled there.

Also among those killed were five members of the Brazilian Air Force, according to a statement reproduced by Diario. Santa Maria is home to an air base.  They will be buried in the region.

Read profiles of the nightclub fire victims at Diario de Santa Maria

More than 100 people remain hospitalized for smoke inhalation, the AP reported. 

“It’s impossible to predict what will happen, because they are all in a very delicate state, but there’s hope for all of them,” Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame told the AP. He said hospitals in neighboring cities have taken in about 40 patients.

“One of the problems we’re having here is that all these people need to be on respirators and we don’t have enough respirators in the city,” Dr. Beltrame said. 

The city’s mortuary was also backed up, the BBC reported, so bodies were lined up at a local gym. Family members were guided through the gym to identify relatives.

At the gym were Leandro Buss, a computer technician, and his 16-year-old son. 

“I’m burying my wife today,” Buss, 35, told The New York Times. His wife, Marilene Castro, 33, died at the club. “We’ll see who was responsible for this.”

The cemetery, too, has become overwhelmed by the plots that must be dug immediately. The cemetery has hired eight workers in addition to its usual eight and rented two backhoes, according to the Diario de Santa Maria, the newspaper based in Santa Maria, a city of 263,000 in Brazil’s southernmost state. One apparatus failed, forcing workers to dig out the plots with shovels.

Thousands gathered Monday afternoon at a square in the city center for a short service. They hugged tearfully and when the nondenominational service came to an end, they applauded for a long time, according to the Diario de Santa Maria.  

President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile, the BBC reported, to visit survivors at a Santa Maria hospital.

"It is a tragedy for all of us," Rousseff told the BBC.


Shoes, blood, lime slices scattered across nightclub floor

Painful memories for survivors of 2003 club fire in Rhode Island