BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) -- Survivors are describing a terrifying scene after flames raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early this morning, killing more than 230 people.
Panicked clubgoers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air while stampeding toward a single exit. An estimated 900 people were inside when the blaze erupted, and fire officials say that exit was partially blocked by those who had already succumbed.
Witnesses say a flare or firework lit by band members may have started the blaze. Survivors, police and firefighters are providing the same account of a band member setting the ceiling's soundproofing ablaze.
Firefighters and clubgoers used axes and sledgehammers to try to break windows and walls to free those trapped inside, but police say the majority of victims were trampled to death trying to escape. A club employee says some suffocated as they sought shelter in the bathrooms.
A doctor who's been treating victims says toxic smoke filled the club and most of the dead appeared to have suffocated.
More than 100 people are being treated at hospitals.
Santa Maria is a university town in Brazil's southernmost state with a population of around a quarter of a million.