Police in Brazil say at least 245 people are now known to have died in a fire at a nightclub.
Local television has shown shirtless firefighters using sledgehammers and axes to open up an exit as there was only one way in or out.
It is thought the majority of the victims suffocated or were trampled to death. Authorities say the death toll is likely to rise as there were more than 500 people inside.
The blaze is said to have been sparked by a band’s pyrotechnics show which set alight the ceiling at the Kiss nightclub.
Santa Maria lies some 300 kilometres west of the state capital of Porto Alegre. Authorities there have now declared 30 days of official mourning.
After cutting short a visit to Chile President Dilma Roussef was clearly visibly moved in a televised address when she expressed her condolences and solidarity with the victims.
“We stand together at this time, and even though there’s a lot of sadness, we will pull through without forgetting this sadness,” she said.
With so many dead, questions will undoubtedly be raised over the cause of this tragedy as well as Brazil’s safety standards and capacity to respond to emergencies as it prepares to host football’s World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
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