BUCHAREST: At least 27 people were killed and more than 160 injured after a fire ripped through a nightclub in Bucharest, in one of the worst accidents to hit the Romanian capital.
The blaze broke out at around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT) at the Colectiv night club, where some 200 people had gathered to hear a gig by rock group Goodbye to Gravity promoting their new album.
Hospital sources said the death toll could rise as at least 25 people were in critical condition.
“This is the worst tragedy of its kind” to have ever happened in Bucharest, said the secretary of state for the interior, Raed Arafat.
Witnesses quoted by local media described scenes of chaos when fireworks, let off as part of the show, set fire to a pillar and part of the ceiling.
The crowd panicked as thick smoke engulfed the room, leaving people scrambling to escape from the underground club located in a communist-era basement.
“People disappeared, they disappeared because of the smoke. It was total chaos, people were trampled,” witness Victor Ionescu told local television station Antena 3.
Many of the wounded were suffering from leg injuries after being trampled in a stampede and smoke inhalation, according to health authorities.
Another witness, Alain Panduru, said the fire spread in seconds.
“People could not get out of the club because there was only one exit open and the stampede happened immediately,” he told online news portal Hotnews.
Several media outlets reported that a second exit was closed when the blaze broke out.
The interior ministry said 27 people had died so far, most of them teenagers, while more than 160 injured people were being treated in several hospitals in the capital.
Police have started an investigation into the incident, and in the early hours of Saturday morning groups of sombre-faced officers were still sifting through evidence outside the club.
Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea said a meeting had been called of a national emergency committee, which would include representatives from across the government.
President Klaus Iohannis said he was “shocked” by the incident, adding that he was in “deep pain following the tragedy that took place this evening in the centre of the capital”.
“It is a very sad moment for our nation,” he said in a post on his Facebook page, expressing his “solidarity and compassion” for the families of the victims.
Oprea branded the incident a “tragedy” and his ministry said several telephone lines have been set up to keep friends and family of those hurt informed.
A Facebook page has already been set up calling on Romanians to donate blood.