With World Cup, Olympics Looming, Brazil Pushes Safety Measures After Tragic Fire

nightclub owner Elissandro Spohr

The nightclub fire over the weekend that killed 235 Brazilians has led to a torrent of  recriminations, hand-wringing, sorrow and pledges by officials across the nation to beef up regulations and inspections to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.  This is of particularly pressing concern as Brazil will be hosting the World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016 and  millions of tourists are expected to flock to the South American nation.

News has emerged about events leading up to the fire at Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria and who is to blame for the many failings that led to the raging fire that trapped hundreds of young people. One of those blamed is Kiss owner Elissandro Spohr, 28, who was arrested by police for operating without a license because the nightclub’s safety certificate expired last year.

Spohr is now being detained in a hospital in Cruz Alta, after reportedly trying to commit suicide before he was stopped by officers.

“He says he no longer has the will to live,” Police Officer Lylian Carús told the Brazilian website G1. ” He doesn’t think he can bear the weight of this tragedy on his shoulders.”

Police said Spohr is handcuffed to the bed to avoid further attempts on his life.

In the meantime, officials across Brazil are eager to show the world that it is taking action to confront the safety issue. They are proposing legislation that would supersede the confusing hodgepodge of safety rules in cities across the country. The Brazilian Congress has set up a working group to study the issue, and cities large and small have beefed up enforcement.

“The World Cup surely makes this issue even more urgent,” Congressman Paulo Pimenta, who will coordinate the effort to draw up new proposals, told BBC Brasil. “We will work fast so the new laws can be voted on before the tournament.”

Even Pele, widely regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time, added his voice to the mix, tweeting that the government “must make event safety and security a priority.”

In a scathing essay about the nature of Brazilians published on a popular Brazilian website, ecopolitica.com.br, Rio de Janeiro sociologist Sérgio Abranches wrote, “In a few weeks we will forget our dead, perhaps because we’ll be crying over other dead as well, victims of tragedies which we know will occur.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who met with the bereaved relatives, has called for a stricter safety rules across the country.

“I have the conviction that what happened in Santa Maria will be an example for all local authorities, prompting them to come up with an adequate response,” she told 5,000 mayors from across Brazil on Monday, according to BBC News.

The BBC reported that mayors from at least eight major Brazilian cities, including seven of the 12 World Cup host cities, have thus far announced new measures aimed at preventing similar tragedies.

In addition to the failures of the nightclub owner, two members of the band suspected of starting the fire with a pyrotechnics display were also taken into custody.

The New York Times reported that an inspector told reporters at a news conference yesterday that band members bought flares meant for outdoor use because they cost $1.25 a piece, compared with $35 for an indoor flare.

But José Joel Canto, 64, a retired railroad worker whose daughter, Natana, a 21-year-old law student, died in the blaze,  placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of public officials for not preventing the fire.

“Those responsible are the people we elected to protect us,” he said. “This is the most senseless thing I can imagine. One minute my daughter is dancing, having some fun with friends — the next minute they are dead. I simply cannot comprehend it.”


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