Details are emerging on the horrific nightclub fire that killed at least 233 people in Brazil early this morning. A band's pyrotechnic display ignited the ceiling with a flare that sent patrons running for the single exit—but bouncers suspected them of skipping on their bar tabs and initially blocked the way, Reuters reports. Only when flames swept across the ceiling were partygoers allowed to run for it. Soon shirtless patrons outside were helping firefighters smash windows and walls in a desperate attempt to save people trapped in the club, reports the Guardian.
"Smoke filled the place instantly, the heat became unbearable," said one survivor. "People could not find the only exit. They went to the toilet thinking it was the exit and many died there." Officials would spot several safety violations, such as the flare and a locked exit, and said the club may have exceeded capacity by 1,000 people, CNN reports. As rescue workers laid out bodies in a nearby gym, workers and officials wept with family and friends of the victims. "It's the saddest, saddest day of my life," said the mother of a 22-year-old victim. "I never thought I would have to live to see my girl go away."