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U.S. rushing treatment for Brazil fire victims

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 2 Feb 2013 01:23 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* U.S. shipping cyanide treatment kits to Brazil- ministry

* Death toll climbs to 236 as victim succumbs to injuries

* Doctors say more could develop respiratory problems

By Brian Winter and Eduardo Sim?es

SAO PAULO, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. government is shipping emergency medical supplies to Brazil to treat survivors of a deadly nightclub fire who are suffering from exposure to cyanide gas released in the blaze, the Brazilian health ministry said on Friday.

Officials say 119 people remain hospitalized after Sunday's fire at the Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil that killed 236. Brazilian doctors have said cyanide was among the toxic chemicals produced when fire consumed the soundproofing foam on the club's ceiling, contributing to the high number of fatalities.

Brazil's health ministry urgently requested 140 of the cyanide-treatment kits containing the medicine hydroxocobalamin, a health ministry spokeswoman said.

A source told Reuters the medicine, which is not available in Brazil, was made by a division of Pfizer and purchased by the U.S. Southern Military Command. The kits should arrive on a commercial flight Saturday morning and will be immediately dispatched to hospitals in and around the city of Santa Maria.

The treatment should offset cyanide poisoning, allowing more oxygen into the victims' bodies, but will do little to address a range of other toxins that they likely inhaled, according to a health official who asked not to be named.

"This will improve their chances, but it probably won't treat the main issue," he said.

Also Friday, a judge in southern Brazil ordered 30 more days of detention for the owners of a nightclub and band members accused of starting the blaze with an outdoor flare that ignited overhead soundproofing. The flammable synthetic foam caught fire and within minutes spread toxic fumes throughout the venue.

Most of the victims died after inhaling the fumes, investigators concluded on Thursday.

Many of those in nearby hospitals, half of whom are on respirators, have developed scorched airways and inflamed lungs from the poisonous vapors. Authorities fear more survivors could begin showing symptoms of cyanide inhalation.

A 20-year-old woman succumbed to her injuries late Thursday, pushing up the death toll from the country's second most deadly fire ever. Civil defense authorities in Rio Grande do Sul, the state where Santa Maria is located, said the victim suffered a heart attack while struggling with injuries that included burns on more than half her body.

Police are investigating safety violations that led to the disaster early on Sunday, leading a judge to extend the detention of two owners of the club and two band members for 30 days.

The judge considered preliminary testimony from an employee blaming club owners for faulty extinguishers and carelessness about overcrowding. The owner of a fireworks store testified that he had warned the band's producer that the flare was banned for indoor use.

Lawyers for the club owners and band members have maintained their innocence. Police have not yet charged any of the four detainees, but said at minimum they are likely to face manslaughter charges.

Prosecutors are also investigating city and fire officials to determine if they were negligent in allowing the club to remain open despite safety violations including broken exit signs and blocked access to the club's only exit.

The factors led to a stampede that crushed some of the victims and kept others from fleeing the flames and toxic smoke.

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