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Three days of national mourning follow Romania nightclub fire

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has blamed poor safety standards for the Bucharest nightclub blaze that killed 27 people. The eastern European country has declared three days of national mourning over the tragedy.

President Klaus Iohannis said Saturday that safety rules may have been ignored at the Colectiv night club in Bucharest late Friday. A fire and stampede resulted in scores of deaths.

"I am saddened, but also revolted that a tragedy of this scale could have taken place in Bucharest," the president said.

"It is unimaginable that there could have been so many people in such a (small) space and that the tragedy happened so quickly because simple rules were ignored," Iohannis said after visiting the scene.

"We already have indications that the legal regulations had not been respected. I hope that the authorities manage their inquiry with speed and rigor."

Prime Minister Victor Ponta said he was cutting short a visit to Mexico to return to Bucharest.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered his condolences to the victims' families and friends.

Shock and horror

The scale of the blaze and subsequent panic, which saw nearly 200 people injured, has left Romanians shocked. Many of the victims were teenagers.

Twenty-six people died in the club and one died in hospital, officials said, adding that out of the injured, 146 people were hospitalized for burns, smoke inhalation and other injuries. A German man, an Italian woman, and two Spanish citizens were among the injured.

Ten people remained in a critical condition on Saturday, hospital sources told the AFP news agency.

The fire broke out at around 11 pm local time (21:00 UTC) on Friday at the Colectiv nightclub, where as many as 400 young people had gathered for a pre-Halloween gig by the rock group Goodbye to Gravity.

The band's bass guitarist Vlad Telea and another guitarist, Mihai Alexandru, were among the dead, Mediafax news agency reported, citing Goodbye to Gravity's record label Universal Music Romania. Lead singer Alex Pascu and two other band members were in serious condition.

The government declared three days of morning for what's been described as the worst bloodshed in the country since the 1989 anti-Communist revolution. An emergency cabinet meeting was also held on Saturday morning.

Lax regulations

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (C) pays his respect for the victims of the club blaze after visiting the site of the fire, in Bucharest, Romania, early 31 October 2015 (Photo: EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

President Iohannis visited the scene on Saturday

According to witnesses, the fireworks that were let off at the underground club as part of a show to promote the band's latest album, immediately set ablaze a pillar and the ceiling, causing panic among the audience as thick smoke engulfed the hall.

"People were fainting. They were fainting because of the smoke. It was total chaos, people were trampled," Victor Ionescu, a witness, told local media.

Alin Panduru, another witness, said the fire spread "in 30 seconds."

"People could not get out of the club because there was only one exit open and the stampede happened immediately," he said.

Delia Tugui, a Spanish teacher who was at the concert with her husband and son, said everybody was surprised by how rapidly the fire spread.

"The lead singer made a quick joke: 'This wasn't part of the program.' The next second, he realized it wasn't a joke and asked for a fire extinguisher," Tugui wrote on her Facehook page. "In 30 seconds… the fire spread all over the ceiling. People rushed to the entrance but it was too narrow, and people panicked."

Indoor fireworks are common in bars and clubs in Romania and fire regulations are generally lax.

Worst club disasters

A survivor of a fire that occurred in a club in Bucharest, Romania, cries, wrapped in a thermal blanket outside the scene early Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 (Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Officials expect the death toll from Friday night's blaze to rise as more than 140 people remain hospitalized

Fireworks and restricted exits have been a lethal combination in many nightclub fires around the world.

In January, 2013, at least 232 people were killed in a fire at the Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil. Local media reported that a band's pyrotechnics show caused the building to catch fire.

In one of the worst such disasters, 156 clubbers in the Russian city of Perm died in 2009 in a blaze caused by pyrotechnics, and 83 were injured. Seven people were jailed for up to nine years after the tragedy.

shs/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)