CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Flames quickly engulfed a tiny,
downtown nightclub packed with hundreds of dancers but lacking
emergency exits, triggering a panicky stampede and killing 47
people, fire officials and victims said Sunday.
Twelve people were injured in the late Saturday night blaze at
La Goajira discotheque.
Faulty wiring, a kitchen fire or even a carelessly discarded
cigarette were all possible causes of the blaze, which erupted near
the club's entrance just before midnight Saturday local time, said
Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno. Nearly all the dead succumbed to the
smoke.
As many as 400 people were inside the discotheque, housed in the
basement of the Hotel Venezuela in a densely packed commercial
district, when someone yelled "Fire!," victims said.
The club was in two rooms with a total of about 1000 square
feet.
"The fire began at the entrance. At first we thought it was a
joke, but it seems the fire extinguishers didn't work and the blaze
grew fast," said Jenny Cisneros, 29, who suffered burns to her
arms and legs.
"Everything went up in flames. There were so many people,
everyone was trampled as they tried to get out. Nobody could
breathe," Cisneros told The Associated Press from her hospital
bed.
Her sister, who also suffered leg burns, was next to her at the
western Caracas clinic. Jenny Cisneros said tearfully that a
girlfriend of hers was among the 17 women who died.
Firefighters using oxygen tanks rescued people trapped inside
the club and extinguished the flames early Sunday. They also
evacuated another 500 people from the hotel and surrounding
buildings inundated by smoke.
At daybreak, grieving relatives and friends stood outside the
charred building in a poor district of the Venezuelan capital. The
club's blackened, narrow entrance was roped off.
Detectives began the grim task of identifying the dead.
"We have information that the flames spread quickly in the
small building, the escape routes were blocked, contributing to the
magnitude of the disaster," Briceno said.
"There were more people in the club than its capacity could
hold. There were three or four hundred people there when we
arrived, and a lot of thick, dense toxic smoke."
The combination of overcrowding, no emergency exits, improvised
electrical wiring, unlicensed kitchen and scant fire code
inspections is a common one in this city of 4 million, Briceno
said. There are not enough resources to monitor hundreds of similar
clubs, some of which are open illegally, officials say.
"It's no secret that these types of clubs often have faulty
wiring and that their electrical circuits are overcharged," the
fire chief said.
"The problem is that nightclubs must have enough exits, and it
isn't always observed," Briceno said, adding that disco owners
often ignore firefighter warnings on capacity limits.
Saturday night's fire was the deadliest nightclub blaze in the
Venezuelan capital since 1985, when 25 people perished in a
discotheque fire, Briceno said.

APTV 12-01-02 2051EST