THERE HAVE BEEN angry scenes outside a Buenos Aires morgue as families demanded the return of the bodies of the victims of the Cromagnon Republic nightclub fire. The death toll now stands at 177, with 50 people still in intensive care. Burials have begun, but problems identifying some victims and mandatory autopsies mean many relatives are still waiting for remains to be returned.
Investigators believe the fire started when a flare was launched during a rock concert, which sent burning debris onto the crowd and triggered a stampede. The government said the accident was made worse by overcrowding – between 2,000 and 4,000 people were thought to have been packed into the club, licensed to hold only 1,300 – and because emergency exits had been locked. Four of the six doors were tied shut with wire or padlocks, according to Interior Minister, Anibal Fernandez. “It appears they were condemned to walk into a trap,” he said. Mayor Anibal Ibarra said emergency exits at the club appeared to be shut “so that people wouldn’t enter without paying”.
Outside the nightclub, mourners laid flowers and candles among the trainers and backpacks left behind by the victims, who mostly died from smoke inhalation. Hospital lists showed most of the victims were in their teens and 20s, but rescue workers also discovered children and babies in the club.
Around 1,000 people marched from the nightclub to the town hall at the weekend to demand that those responsible for the fire be punished and that safety regulations be tightened. The government described the fire as one of Argentina’s worst disasters and declared three days of mourning. All nightclubs in the capital were closed on New Year’s Eve.