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Fire in Venezuelan Nightclub Kills 47

December 1, 2002

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ A fire in an overcrowded downtown Caracas nightclub killed 47 people and injured 12, and blocked emergency exits may have trapped the victims in the basement discotheque, the city fire chief said Sunday.

As many as 400 people were packed inside the tiny La Guajira nightclub when the fire erupted about just before midnight Saturday. There were too few exits to allow them to escape, and nearly all the dead succumbed to smoke, said Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno.

``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,″ he added.

``The problem is that nightclubs must have enough exits, which isn’t always observed,″ Briceno said. He didn’t immediately say how many _ if any _ emergency exits the charred building had.

Firefighters evacuated about 500 people from surrounding buildings damaged by smoke in the densely packed commercial district.

The small discotheque was housed in the basement of the tiny Hotel Venezuela building. Briceno said faulty electrical wiring may have triggered the blaze.

``The fire started at the entrance,″ said Jenny Cisneros, 29, who suffered burns on her legs and arms. ``We didn’t think it was anything serious, but the fire extinguishers didn’t work and the fire spread quickly.″

Cisneros was with her sister, who was also hospitalized at a clinic in western Caracas.

``Everything went up in flames. There were so many people, everyone was trampled as they tried to get out. Nobody could breathe,″ Cisneros said.

Grieving relatives and friends stood outside the charred club where 90 firefighters had responded to the blaze.

``The problem is that nightclubs must have enough exits, which isn’t always observed,″ Briceno said. He didn’t immediately say how many _ if any _ emergency exits the charred building had.

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