At least 27 people were killed and 180 more injured in a fire at a nightclub in Bucharest, Romania last night, The Telegraph reports. Around 400 mostly young people were gathered at Colectiv, a club housed in a former factory with only one exit, to attend a free album release show by local metal band Goodbye To Gravity. The show was supposed to include a pyrotechnics display, but something went wrong — according to Lemi Black, a member of the band, two foam pillars caught fire, causing the room to fill with smoke. “They then set fire to wood inside the building, which burned everything really quickly,” he said. “It was made worse by the fact that the only way out was a relatively small door.”
“The soloist made a quick joke: ‘This wasn’t part of the program,'” one attendee wrote on her Facebook page, according to USA Today. “The next second, he realized it wasn’t a joke and asked for a fire extinguisher. In 30 seconds…the fire spread all over the ceiling. People rushed to the entrance but it was too narrow, and people panicked. Behind me people stampeded, climbing over each other, to try and get out. Friends were looking for each other under the pile of people. Asking ‘Is it you? Where are you? I can’t see you. Is that your arm?’ It was a nightmare.” As another another witness told Romania’s Antena 3 TV, “People were fainting, they were fainting from the smoke. It was total chaos, people were trampling on each other. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided if there had been more organization from the emergency services.”
A dozen ambulances rushed to the club, but were unable to handle the number of victims, and many were forced to take themselves to the hospital in cars or taxis. Floreasca Hospital is reportedly overwhelmed, with people lying on stretchers in the corridors. The interior ministry has declared the situation a code red emergency, and President Klaus Iohannis wrote on his Facebook page that he was “deeply grieved by the tragic events that happened this evening in downtown…It is a very sad day for all of us, for our nation and for me personally.” He has promised an inquiry into the fire to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
UPDATE: Reuters reports that the death toll has risen to 31 people, and police arrested club owners Costin Mincu, Alin George Anastasescu and Paul Gancea on suspicion of manslaughter Monday. Per prosecutors, “Data and evidence … have shown the fire occurred because the people managing the respective space encouraged and allowed a number of people above the club’s limit in a space that was not endowed with more emergency exits.” In addition, the owners allowed “a fireworks show in the indoor venue that was improper as it … contained easily flammable materials illegally installed to avoid additional costs.” More than 130 remained hospitalized Monday, more than half of them in critical condition.
UPDATE 2: The New York Times reports that Prime Minister Victor Ponta has resigned in the wake of the nightclub fire that has now killed at least 32 people. More than 20,000 protestors gathered in Bucharest Tuesday to pronounce blame on the government’s lax permit policy and inadequate inspections. In a statement, Ponta explained, “I have the obligation to acknowledge that there is legitimate anger in society. People feel the need for more, and it would be wrong of me to ignore this.” Ponta was already swimming in corruption allegations from his prior career as a lawyer; in July, he was indicted on charges including forgery, money laundering and being an accessory to tax evasion. The Times also notes that in 2012, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, began more heavily monitoring Romania due to concern over the country’s “insufficient commitment to democratic values.”