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50 Die in Venezuelan Nightclub Fire

December 2, 2002

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Investigators recovered three more bodies from the debris of a downtown Caracas nightclub destroyed by a fast-moving fire over the weekend, raising the death toll to 50, officials said Monday.

Flames quickly engulfed the tiny nightclub packed with hundreds of dancers but lacking emergency exits, triggering a panicky stampede late Saturday. Twelve people were injured 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, Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno said. The investigation continued Monday.

Forensic experts recovered the bodies of two women and a man from the scene Monday, bringing the number of dead to 50, Carmen Julieta Centeno, director of a government forensics agency, told The Associated Press. Nearly all the dead succumbed to the smoke.

Authorities also identified 26 of the victims and transferred the remains to their families, Centeno said.

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 occupying a space of about 1,000 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 said from her hospital bed.

The combination of overcrowding, no emergency exits, improvised electrical wiring 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.

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.

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