Brazil nightclub owner blames fire on "whole country"

SANTA MARIA, Brazil The owner of a nightclub in southern Brazil where more than 230 people died in a fire last weekend deflected blame to "the whole country," as well as to architects and inspectors charged with making sure the building was safe, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Jader Marques said his client, Elissandro Spohr, "regretted having ever been born" because of his grief over the fire, but still blamed Sunday's tragedy on "a succession of errors made by the whole country."

Police investigating the blaze have said it likely started when a country music band performing at the Kiss nightclub in the college town of Santa Maria lit a flare, which ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling. That initial error was compounded by the near-total lack of emergency infrastructure such as a fire alarms or sprinkler systems, police have said. The club also had only one working door and a faulty fire extinguisher.

Marques insisted in a phone interview with The Associated Press that "my client's responsibility is having trusted too much in the inspectors and in those responsible for the construction."

"Hindsight is 50-50," he said, stressing that public officials had signed off on the club.

The number of injured jumped to 143 Wednesday after 22 people were admitted to hospitals with respiratory problems after having escaped the club apparently unharmed. Brazil Health Minister Alexandre Padilha has urged the fire's survivors to remain alert for any symptoms of so-called "chemical pneumonia," which can take up to three days to develop following exposure to toxic fumes and smoke.

The blaze also claimed another life late Tuesday, raising the death toll to 235, as a 21-year-old man with burns covering 70 percent of his body succumbed to his wounds. Brazilian media reported that the man's brother was also killed in the fire.

Police detained Spohr, the club's other co-owner and two musicians who were playing in the club when the fire broke out, and are holding them for five days as part of the investigation. Spohr is in police custody at a hospital in a nearby town, where he's recovering from a respiratory infection and is said to be suffering from depression.

Lilian Caus, one of the officers watching Spohr, said he had made a suicidal gesture, removing a shower hose and tying it to a bathroom window Tuesday.

"By the way it was tied it looked like he wanted to use it to hang himself by the neck, but he didn't even use it," Caus said. "There seems to have been the intention to use it."

Marques denied reports that overcrowding helped cause Sunday's tragedy, insisting there were only 600 to 700 people in the club at any one time. Capacity for the 615-square-meter (6,650-square-foot) nightspot stood at less than 700, though the band's guitarist told media that the space was packed with an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people. Police have given the same estimate.

Marques insisted that any higher tallies of people at the club that night were due to club-goers cycling in and out.

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