Brazil is marking three days of national mourning for the victims of the fire at a nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria.
At least 230 people were killed – most of them from smoke inhalation.
Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Daniel Fiterman Molinari.
He is a doctor from the neighboring city of Porto Alegre.
He traveled to Santa Maria with a team of physicians and nurses to help out with the casualties.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Brazil is in a state of shock over the deadly nightclub fire this weekend. At least 230 people were killed, most of them from smoke inhalation. The blaze allegedly started when a musician lit a flare onstage inside the Kiss Nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria. Brazilian police say they’ve detained three people and are seeking a fourth as part of their investigation. Daniel Molinari is a doctor in the neighboring city of Porto Alegre. He traveled to Santa Maria with a team of physicians and nurses to help out with the casualties. In the last twenty-four hours, he and his colleagues have treated over eighty people who were in that nightclub fire. He describes what the scene was like at the hospital in Santa Maria.
Daniel Molinari: A lot of patients in respiratory distress, a lot of patients needing to be intubated to be assured that they wouldn’t stop breathing, so really bad respiratory problems. The first twenty-four hours is respiratory disease. Now you’re going to see some other diseases, like heart issues and renal disease. What we saw mostly was respiratory distress.
Werman: Right, and that respiratory distress results, presumably, from the massive smoke inhalation that took place during this fire. Now, I gather many of the victims were from the local university in Santa Maria. Has it been mostly young people you’ve been treating?
Molinari: Yeah, young people from 16 to 22 year olds. A lot of people. All of them were young people.
Werman: Have you ever seen anything like this before in Brazil as long as you’ve been practicing?
Molinari: No, I don’t think there has ever been something like this in Brazil. It was a disaster. It was horrible. Young people. I don’t think that anyone that was working here had ever seen something like this.
Werman: Did you have the chance to speak to any of these people who were trapped in this nightclub during the fire and then were able to get out?
Molinari: Yeah, they all were inside of the nightclub. Some of them got out in an unconscious state. One of the patients told me that he got out and went back in to bring people out. They couldn’t see because of the dark smoke. They couldn’t see anything one foot in front of them. There was a big mass of people by the door. They couldn’t get out, so people from outside were just pulling them out. Some of them were pulled out alive, and some were dead or unconscious. I’d heard a lot of people died inside the place, but also outside on the way to the hospital and in the hospital. The first moment was the worst.
Werman: So, you’ve spoken a lot about the respiratory distress among the patients you’ve seen what about burns?
Molinari: In the university hospital, there were three burn victims. They were really severe. They were transferred to Porto Alegre. Some went to hospitals in Porto Alegre; they went by airplane.
Werman: Dr. Molinari, I imagine a small city like Santa Maria doesn’t have everything it needs to address a crisis like this. You actually had to come in from Porto Alegre to help out. What does this city need right now? What does Santa Maria need more than anything else?
Molinari: When I got here, I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was. They transferred patients to bigger cities with more resources. They’re doing a great job. 230 people died in the fire. They were all taken to a gymnasium in the city. That was horrible, horrible. It was like a pile of bodies that were, little by little, being recognized by their families and the mourning and the funeral, it was horrible. The first place we went when we got to the city to unite to the local force was the gymnasium. It was the central place of the operation here in Santa Maria.
Werman: So, when you got to Santa Maria, that gymnasium with that pile of bodies, as you say, that was the first thing you saw?
Molinari: I didn’t see the pile of bodies. We were outside. We didn’t want to go in. It was horrible. We had to go back to the patients, to the living people. The people that were already dead, the police and the fire department, they were all taking care of them. You know, so we had to go to the living ones, to the hospital instead. It was going to receive the people that weren’t dead yet. A lot of them lived.
Werman: A horrifying, horrifying scene. Dr. Daniel Molinari, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Molinari: Thank you.
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