BRASILIA, Brazil -- Police have detained an owner of the nightclub where 231 people perished in a weekend fire, the nation's deadliest blaze since 1961.
Authorities are questioning the owner and two members of the band whose pyrotechnic display caused the fire, according to a statement from Rio Grande do Sul state, where the tragedy occurred. The club, in the city of Santa Maria, didn't have permission to use fireworks, local District Attorney Joel Dutra said in an interview.
Funeral services began for the victims, most of whom died from inhaling smoke. The blaze began after a flare set fire to foam sound-proofing insulation, provoking a stampede toward the club's only exit. Videos posted on YouTube showed a smoke-filled scene outside the building, as firefighters and shirtless club-goers dragged people into the street.
"People were screaming and trying to run to the exit," Luciene Louzeiro, a survivor who was near the stage when the fire started, said in a televised interview with Globo. "It was horrible. I've never seen anything like it."
Police will take the other owner of the Kiss nightclub into custody today, Mr. Dutra said.
The club's fire permit expired last year, exposing owners and even city officials to possible criminal charges, said a municipal government spokesperson, who asked not to be named because of internal policy. Kiss had all the "equipment necessary" to fight the fire, and management is working with authorities to investigate, the club said in a statement.
At least 80 funerals were to take place Monday in Santa Maria, according to the municipal government. Brazilian families normally hold funeral services within a day of the death.
Seventy-nine people remain hospitalized in local facilities, while 65 others were sent to nearby cities and towns for treatment, the Santa Maria government said on its website.
"I went to Santa Maria yesterday, and the pain I witnessed was indescribable," President Dilma Rousseff said in Brasilia, addressing a gathering of mayors elected last year. "I talk about that pain to remind us of the responsibility we, as executives, all have to our populations. In the face of that tragedy, we have the duty to ensure that tragedy never happens again."
The club was hosting a party for a group of students from the Federal University of Santa Maria. The band, Gurizada Fandangueira, was playing Brazilian folk music as the fire started. One of its members is among the victims, Globo reported.
Some victims may have perished as they attempted to reach the club's doors, while others died after running into the bathroom, officials said. Some club security guards initially stopped people from leaving the premises before paying, witnesses told local media. In Brazil, club-goers normally pay for their drinks on their way out.
Authorities plan to carry out on-site visits to all nightclubs in the state to assure that they meet safety standards, said Mr. Dutra, the district attorney. Investigators are focusing on the material in the club's ceiling and the pyrotechnic display as the fire cause, Mr. Dutra said, adding that social networks are also being used to gather evidence.
The incident is the worst fire in Brazil since 1961, when 503 people died at a circus in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo said. Brazil is seeking to improve its safety record before it hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014.