BUCHAREST • Romania was plunged into mourning yesterday after 27 people were killed and nearly 200 injured when a fire ripped through an underground nightclub in Bucharest.
Survivors spoke of the horror that unfolded when fireworks - set off during a pre-Halloween gig by a heavy metal band - unleashed a blaze, followed by a stampede as terrified clubbers sought the exit.
The government declared three days of national mourning and held an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday morning.
President Klaus Iohannis said there were indications that safety regulations had been ignored at the club, and called for a swift investigation.
"I am saddened, but also revolted that a tragedy of this scale could have taken place in Bucharest," Mr Iohannis said.
"We already have indications that the legal regulations had not been respected," he added. "I hope that the authorities manage their inquiry with speed and rigour."
The blaze broke out at around 11pm last Friday at the Colectiv nightclub where, according to witnesses, between 200 and 400 young people had gathered for a performance by rock group Goodbye to Gravity.
Twenty-six people died in the nightclub and one died in hospital, the Secretary of State for the Inte-rior, Dr Raed Arafat, said after a meeting of a national emergency committee.
Of the nearly 200 injured, 146 people were hospitalised for burns, smoke inhalation and other injuries, he said. Hospital sources said 10 were in a critical condition.
The band's singer and bassist were said to be in a serious condition, according to local reports.
"This is the worst tragedy of its kind" to have ever happened in Bucharest, Dr Arafat said.
Witnesses described nightmarish scenes when fireworks, set off as part of a show to promote the band's new album, set fire to a pillar and part of the ceiling.
The crowd panicked as thick smoke engulfed the room, prompting people to scramble to escape from the club, which is located in a communist-era basement.
"People were fainting, they were fainting because of the smoke. It was total chaos, people were trampled," witness Victor Ionescu told local television station Antena 3.
Another witness, Mr Alin Panduru, said the fire spread "in 30 seconds".
"People could not get out of the club because there was only one exit open and the stampede happened immediately," he told online news portal Hotnews.
Several media outlets reported that a second exit was closed at the time when the blaze broke out.
Many of the casualties suffered from leg injuries after being trampled on, according to the health authorities.
More than 500 firefighters, ambulance crew and police officers were mobilised. Hundreds of people responded to calls on Facebook for blood donations, with long queues forming outside several hospitals and donation centres in the capital early yesterday.
The authorities have set up telephone helplines for members of the public trying to locate friends and relatives. Identifying the victims has proved difficult as many were not carrying IDs.
Fireworks and restricted exits have been a lethal combination in many nightclub fires around the world.
In the southern Brazilian college town of Santa Maria in 2013, a musician lit an outdoor flare inside the Kiss nightclub and started a fire that killed at least 241 people.
Fireworks were also blamed for nightclub fires in Russia's Perm that killed 156 people in 2009 and in Argentina's Buenos Aires in 2004 that killed 194.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS