Brazil mourns Santa Maria nightclub fire victims

Brazil has declared three days of national mourning for 231 people killed in a nightclub fire in the southern city of Santa Maria.

The fire reportedly started after a member of a band playing at the Kiss nightclub lit a flare on stage.

Authorities say most of the victims were students who died of smoke inhalation. The first funerals took place place on Monday morning.

Three people were arrested over the fire, unconfirmed local reports said.

Police on Monday arrested two musicians from the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, and one of the club’s owners, the website of the Diario de Santa Maria newspaper reported. A fourth person was being sought, the paper said.

The fire is the deadliest in Brazil in five decades.

The BBC’s Gary Duffy reports from Sao Paulo that the national sense of loss is profound.

Brazil postponed a ceremony due on Monday in the capital, Brasilia, to mark 500 days to the 2014 football World Cup. In Santa Maria, 30 days of mourning were declared.

President Dilma Rousseff, who cut short a visit to Chile, has been visiting survivors at the city’s Caridade hospital along with government ministers.

“It is a tragedy for all of us,” she said.

Authorities have released the names of the victims, after revising down the death toll from 245.

More than 100 people were being treated in hospital, mostly for smoke inhalation.

Officials will now investigate reports that a flare was lit on stage, igniting foam insulation material on the ceiling and releasing toxic smoke.

They will also look at claims that many of those who died were unable to escape as only one emergency exit was available.

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