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102 people die in Russian nightclub fire; 135 hurt

Pyrotechnics are blamed for the disaster in the Ural Mountain city of Perm. Many victims succumbed to fumes or got trampled to death, and 135 people were injured.

December 05, 2009|By Sergei L. Loiko

Reporting from Moscow — Indoor pyrotechnics sparked a blaze in a packed nightclub in the Russian city of Perm early today that killed at least 102 people and injured 135, emergency ministry officials said.

Many of the victims succumbed to fumes or were trampled as partygoers stampeded toward the doors and jammed the exits of the Lame Horse nightclub, which was especially crowded because the establishment was celebrating its eighth anniversary, said Darya Kochneva, a spokeswoman for the regional office of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Security officials ruled out terrorism, blaming fountain-type indoor fireworks for igniting a low plastic ceiling decorated with twigs and wicker to make the interior resemble a countryside club.

Survivor Andrei Vaskin, who works as a dancer, said he saw the fire begin shortly after 1 a.m. as more than 200 people inside were warming up for a late-night show.

"I noticed rays of sparks from the fireworks reaching the ceiling and heard the first crackling sounds of fire from above, where the ceiling was."

The lights suddenly went out and the club quickly filled with smoke, said Vaskin, 24, who managed to escape through a back kitchen.

Vaskin said he joined medics from 19 ambulances in pulling people from the building. But as the fumes and panic built, rescue efforts became more difficult.

People were falling on top of one another and being trampled, he said, and the club's windows were too high to allow escape.

Vaskin said he realized he had to crouch low to avoid smoke as he tried to reach the injured.

"I took one girl, maybe 19, to the ambulance in my arms and was standing by to recover my breath as the medics inside the ambulance were applying artificial respiration," Vaskin said. "They gave her a series of electric shocks, and then they just shook their heads and looked at me, saying she was dead.

"She must have died in my hands while I was carrying her to the ambulance," he said.

Of about a dozen people he helped carry out, at least four died, he said.

Vera Yershova, 21, said she barely made it out of the club alive.

"Somebody hit me in the back with an elbow and I fell on the floor near the exit," she recalled. "I rolled on the floor trying to get away from legs trampling me down.

"I fell almost at once and that must have saved me, because there was some air closer to the ground," Yershova said. "It was pitch dark, everybody was screaming and pushing, and smoke was everywhere -- just smoke, no fire that I could see."

Then someone grabbed her hair and dragged her outside, where she sat gasping for air.

State television showed charred bodies lying in rows outside the club amid a light snow flurry.

Perm, a city of about 1 million people, is about 700 miles northeast of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.

Russia has been on edge since last week's bombing of the prestigious Nevsky Express passenger train midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, which killed 27 people. It was the first fatal terrorist attack outside Russia's restive Caucasus republics since 2004. Chechen rebels claimed responsibility for the bombing.

A nightclub fire in the U.S. state of Rhode Island in 2003 killed 100 people after pyrotechnics used as a stage prop by the 1980s band Great White set ablaze soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling.

Loiko is a Times staff writer.

Times news services were used in compiling this report.

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