Tempers flare as Bucharest nightclub fire death toll hits 30, forecast to possibly double

AP

Romanians wept, cursed and prayed Sunday as they mourned the victims of a fire in a nightclub, while doctors warned the death toll could rise “significantly” because so many of the injured have severe burns.

As the nation entered its second day of mourning, thousands paid their respects at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest’s 4th district — the scene of Friday’s tragedy that so far has killed 30 people and left dozens badly burned.

In a separate show of grief, thousands walked silently through the capital city of 3 million Sunday afternoon, carrying flowers and photographs of the dead.

About 140 people are still hospitalized around the Romanian capital. Of those, 90 are in serious condition, said Raed Arafat, an emergency situations official. He added that the death toll could double.

Treating victims of a nightclub fire is more complicated than treating someone for a localized burn, Arafat said.

“Many sustained burns to their trachea and lungs, aggravated by the kind of noxious gasses you find in foam and furniture which give off toxic substances such as cyanide. Also many people were trampled on,” he said. “From this point of view, the prognostic and chances (of survival) are reduced.”

Ioan Lascar, a doctor at the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, agreed the death toll could rise “significantly” because so many of the injured have severe burns.

“Treatment for burns is the most complex and costly treatment imaginable,” he said. “We are talking about long-term hospitalization: a month, a month and a half, two, sometimes even more.”

Lascar said the emergency hospital had performed 11 tracheotomies over the weekend to help victims of the accident breathe because they had suffered burns to their lungs. The procedure involves an incision being made to the windpipe, after which a tube is inserted which is connected to a ventilation machine that provides more oxygen to the lungs.

As doctors announced that three more people had died Sunday, mourners gathered outside the shuttered club, some weeping, others standing silently, apparently dazed by the tragedy, the biggest of its kind in Romania. Journalists and police officers, who were working, also appeared visibly moved by the outpouring of grief and emotion.

People laid down white and yellow chrysanthemums, one wrapped in a musical score, and placed red and white candles to create a sea of tiny flickering flames, in an echo of the inferno that erupted at the basement nightclub in the shabby four-story building during a rock concert with the band Goodbye to Gravity.

Meanwhile, forensic experts began the first autopsies of victims.

Early forensic results point to carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke and toxic gas as the main causes of death among the victims, Romanian news agency Mediafax reported. Health Minister Nicolae Banicioiu also said most people died of intoxication.

Amid the tears in Bucharest Sunday, there were bursts of anger and calls for punishing those deemed responsible for what happened. Witnesses said the fire started as a pyrotechnics show ignited foam, which led to a stampede to a single exit from the club.

“The owners of the nightclub and authorities should be punished for allowing this to happen,” said Anne-Marie Duminica, 36. “I hope they rot in prison.”

There has been widespread anger that the club had only one exit door, the rock band used fireworks in its repertoire, and the ceiling and pillars were clad in flammable foam. Criticism has also been raised against Romania’s lax fire regulations.

Law enforcement officials are still collecting evidence from the scene.

Duminica, a government adviser for small business, comforted her weeping friend Alexandra Sivu, whose best friend, blogger and photographer Claudiu “Bubu” Petre, died in an ambulance after he had returned to the raging fire to try and save others.

“Tell the world that Bubu went back to save people. He is a hero,” Duminica said. “Rockers are not bad people as some say. He had a wonderful heart.”

In churches around the fervently religious country, churchgoers prayed, and a moment of silence was held in some churches.

On Saturday, the government declared three days of mourning.