Did Bar Tabs Keep People from Surviving the Brazilian Club Fire?

Alexander Abad-Santos

As Brazil and the city of Santa Maria prepare to bury the 233 people who died in a nightclub fire, we are slowly getting more information on what really happened early Saturday morning, like the harrowing reality that survivors and police both say security guards did not let people leave the burning building. That, the AP writes this morning, made it difficult for fleeing clubgoers and incoming first responders alike. And the security failure wasn't malicious — it was customary:

Survivors and another police inspector, Marcelo Arigony, said security guards briefly tried to block people from exiting the club. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.

That's sort of hard to imagine under such catastrophic circumstances, but here's a graphic from Brazil's Jornal O Globo that shows the bottleneck:

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"It was chaotic and it doesn’t seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died," police inspector Marcelo Arigony told the AP, which adds that the first funerals are being planned for Monday. Two members of the band and one of the nightclub owners were arrested on Monday, the BBC reports.