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From joy to tragedy: Inside the Brazil nightclub where 233 died

Yuri Weber/ Agencia O Dia via Reuters

An interior view of the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil, after it was destroyed by a fire on Jan. 27.

Shoes, bottles and slices of lime lay scattered around the blackened remains of a dancefloor in Brazil on Monday – signs of how quickly a Saturday night student party turned into one of the world’s worst nightclub fires.

End-of-summer celebrations were in full swing at the Kiss club in the university town of Santa Maria when a band’s pyrotechnic display set fire to the sound-proofed ceiling and started a fire that choked dozens to death and saw dozens more trampled in the ensuing panic.

The image of the burned, empty building was in stark contrast to the town’s packed gymnasium where relatives of the victims gathered late on Sunday to mourn after the mortuary became overwhelmed with bodies.

One woman fell to her knees in grief at the coffin of a relative, while others waited to identify their loved ones.

In total, at least 233 died - 120 men and 113 women - while 92 people are still being treated in hospitals, Reuters reported.

About 50 funerals were expected to take place at the municipal cemetery in Santa Maria on Monday, according to Brazilian television news broadcast Zero Hora.

The cemetery opened early, at 7:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. ET), and was planning to conduct burials at half-hour intervals, O Globo reported, saying the army had helped dig graves.

A Brazilian nightclub owner and two members of a band have been arrested by civil police investigating the blaze, newspaper Diario de Santa Maria reported Monday. A fourth person is also being sought, the newspaper said.

It said businessman Elissandro Spohr, also known as ‘Kiko’ – one of the owners of the Kiss nightclub in the city of Santa Maria – was detained “on a temporary basis.”

Marcelo Arigony, a police inspector, said the arrests were "provisional" and that there was not yet a criminal accusation. He declined to confirm the identities of those arrested, saying the investigation "is still quite precarious."

Sphor's lawyer, Jader Marques, told the Diario de Santa Maria that his client was present in the club with his pregnant wife at the moment that a spark from the pyrotechnic flare or fuse handled by the band lit the soundproofing on the ceiling.

One of the worst nightclub fires in history has claimed a terrible toll in the southern Brazil city of Santa Maria, with at least 233 dead by the most recent count. Authorities and witnesses are saying the fire may have been sparked by a pyrotechnics show. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

The main door of the nightclub was locked at the time, fire chief Guido Pedroso de Melo told O Globo.

He added that firefighters responding to the blaze initially had trouble getting inside the nightclub because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance.”

Survivors and the police inspector Marcelo Arigony said security guards briefly tried to block people from exiting the club, according to the AP, perhaps fearing that patrons would leave without paying their tab.

But Arigony said the guards didn't appear to block fleeing patrons for long. "It was chaotic and it doesn't seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died," he told the AP.

In a radio interview, the band’s guitarist Rodrigo Martins said the fire began shortly after the band took to the stage at 2.15 a.m. local time Sunday.

"When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn't working," he said, adding that the accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other members made it out safely.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.