BUCHAREST (REUTERS, AFP) - A fire and explosion in a Bucharest nightclub killed 27 people and injured 162 during a rock concert that featured fireworks late on Friday (Oct 30), Romanian government officials and witnesses said.
In one of the capital's worst disasters in decades, about 400 people, mostly young adults, stampeded for the exit as the club in the basement of a Communist-era factory filled with smoke.
The blaze broke out at the Colectiv nightclub in the Romanian capital at around 11pm local time, during a gig by rock group Goodbye to Gravity promoting their new album.
Several witnesses said there were fireworks inside the club. Colectiv Club's Facebook page said the show would feature pyrotechnic effects.
A pillar and the club's ceiling went up in flames and then there was an explosion and heavy smoke, the witnesses said.
TV footage showed police officers and paramedics trying to resuscitate young people lying on the pavement while sirens wailed with more ambulances deployed to the scene.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, groups of sombre-faced officers were still sifting through evidence outside the club.
"There was a stampede of people running out of the (Colectiv) club," a man who escaped without shoes told Reuters.
A young woman who was released from the hospital after minor injuries described the club bursting into flames. "In five seconds the whole ceiling was all on fire. In the next three, we rushed to a single door," she told television station Antena 3.
Witnesses quoted by local media described scenes of chaos when fireworks, let off as part of the show, set fire to a pillar and part of the ceiling.
The crowd panicked as thick smoke engulfed the room, leaving people scrambling to escape from the underground club 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.
Many of the wounded were suffering from leg injuries after being trampled in a stampede and smoke inhalation, according to the health authorities. The bassist and singer in Goodbye to Gravity, who were playing a gig to promote their new album, were among those seriously injured, Antena 3 said.
Another witness, Mr Alain Panduru, said the fire spread in 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 when the blaze broke out.
The Interior Ministry said 27 people had died so far, most of them teenagers and young people, while 162 injured were being treated in several hospitals in the capital.
Hospital sources said the death toll could rise as at least 25 people were in critical condition.
"This is the worst tragedy of its kind" to have ever happened in Bucharest, said Deputy Interior Minister Raed Arafat.
The victims were admitted to 10 hospitals in Bucharest, he added.
"The situation is slowly stabilising... we have many people with burns, intoxicated with smoke and people squashed," he said, adding many victims have no identification.
Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea said an investigation into the causes of the incident was already under way, and the health minister launched a public appeal for blood donations.
Mr Oprea labelled the fire a "tragedy", while President Klaus Iohannis said he was "shocked" by the deaths.
"It is a very sad moment for our nation," he said on his Facebook page.
Mr Iohannis later said in a statement: "I want to assure you of all support from rescuing forces and ask you to trust they put all efforts to limit the impact of this catastrophe."
An emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers was set for early on Saturday to assess the incident.
A Facebook page has already been set up calling on Romanians to donate blood.
"A tragedy has happened this evening in Bucharest. There is currently enough blood, but tomorrow we will need all of you," said a statement on the page, encouraging people to head to the city's blood transfusion clinic in the morning.
Some of the deadliest nightclub disasters in the world were started by fireworks.
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, investigators said.
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.