Santa Maria, Brazil (CNN) — Souls rose to heaven symbolically Monday night, when marchers in this southern Brazilian town remembered those who perished in a nightclub inferno during a packed concert.
The mourners, wearing white, released 231 white helium balloons into the sky — one for each life lost.
They hope there won’t be more.
Eighty three more victims lie hospitalized — 75 of whom could forfeit their lives to the severe burns and smoke inhalation they suffered when the Kiss nightclub went up in flames Sunday, authorities said.
Violinists accompanied the procession of grief. Some marchers wept openly; Others recited prayers for the dead.
Police have arrested four people — the band’s vocalist, the show producer and the club’s two owners.
They’ve also questioned 20 others to gain deeper insight into how the fire began and why it killed so many. Lawyers for the club’ say they are cooperating fully.
Kiss was filled to twice its legal capacity, when a crowd of 2,000 people packed the club to hear the band Gurizada Fandangueira play.
About 20 minutes into the concert, the musicians ended a song with pyrotechnic effects. The ceiling caught fire, state officials said. It spread fast.
The crowd panicked, breaking into a stampede, and it hit a bottleneck — the only exit was the front door, down a dark, narrow hallway. It clogged quickly.
A stampede for safety
Mayara Peirera, a 21-year-old law student who was celebrating her birthday at the club, told CNN she escaped with a friend through the door.
“I saw people bleeding, fainting, running over other people,” she said. “People desperate, screaming.”
Two friends — “almost sisters to me” — didn’t make it out, Peirera said.
“I can no longer cry, because I have already cried so much.”
Bouncers watching the door halted the concertgoers at first, not knowing what they were running from.
“When I was trying to get out, the staff stopped me, and I yelled ‘fire, fire,’” said survivor Matheus Vargas. “But the security guards did not realize what was going on.”
The roof collapsed, trapping the crowd inside.
Bodies were found later packed into the bathrooms. They may have been seeking another way out, a back door that did not exist.
People on the street could hear victims screaming inside. They tried to tear down the club’s thick outer wall with bats and sticks — in vain.
Survivors turned back to tear others through the cramped doorway, yanking some out by their hair.
Remembering the dead
Inside the scorched, ransacked club, 231 bodies sprawled across the floor.
One of them was Leandra Toniolo, 23, her friend Michele Pereira told local paper Folha de Sao Paulo.
Toniolo was in the bathroom, when the flames ravaged the club.
Pereira knew she couldn’t save her.
“I was on the opposite side, near the stage,” Pereira said. “I would have had to go all the way across the arena — against the mayhem — to find her, and in the tumult, it was impossible.”
By the time Toniolo’s mother found her daughter’s body, it had been placed with others on a truck, Pereira said.
Calls for justice
After the balloon release Monday, the sadness turned to outrage with repeated cries of “Justice!”
No expense will be spared in the investigation, said Tarso Genro, the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
It will include an assessment to see if the club was fit to operate, an expert analysis of the fire and eyewitness accounts, the state’s police said.
The club’s license had expired in August and had not been renewed, a local fire official told Globo TV.
The owners, however, said the nightclub was properly permitted and had been inspected by the fire marshal.
Hordes of mourners left flowers outside the club, as official grieving continues through Wednesday.
The flag outside the presidential palace is flying at half-staff.
By Monday’s end, the dead were buried.
All 231 committed to the soil.