Romanian nightclubs: Sorry, we were reckless, after 31 die in nightclub fire

By Alison Mutler, The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania – Three Romanian nightclubs on Monday acknowledged they had been reckless and failed to respect safety standards, apologizing to clients and promising to either close or upgrade safety at their venues, following a fire in a Bucharest nightclub that killed at least 31 people.

The owner of Expirat, Andrei Sosa, announced the permanent closure of his Bucharest club, which has only one exit door. “I apologize and I take responsibility. From 2003 I have put the lives of thousands in danger. Weekend after weekend and sometimes during the week,” he said.

In Iasi, a city in northeastern Romania, La Baza club apologized for not meeting minimum safety requirements. “We consider we have been ignorant and irresponsible. We were lucky. We don’t want to put anyone’s life in danger,” it said on its Facebook page.

Rockstadt, a big music venue in the central city of Brasov, said in a statement on its Facebook page that it would close for 10 days to replace foam similar to that which caught alight in the Colectiv club, install sprinklers and bring the club up to European standards.

Fire engulfed Colectiv, a basement club, during a rock concert Friday night. Witnesses say a spark on stage from a heavy-metal pyrotechnics show ignited foam decor, sending panicked people rushing for the single exit. Some 180 people were injured, and 90 remain hospitalized in serious condition with authorities predicting the death toll could rise “significantly.” The latest death was announced Monday evening.

Shooting candles and indoor fireworks are common in bars, nightclubs and restaurants in Romania and fire regulations can be lax. The deaths have shocked Romanians and many clubs did not open over the weekend in respect of the victims.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta has called for authorities to check nightclubs and bars around the country to determine whether they meet safety standards. “It’s awful that you let your children go in the evening to the club, and you go to look for them at the morgue,” he said Saturday.

On Monday, Romanians arrived in their hundreds at the club, laying flowers and lighting candles for the victims, many of them young. As the nation went into its third day of mourning, schools in Bucharest instructed students to dress in black, and some teachers suspended classes and let pupils pay their respects at the club, which has become a shrine to the dead and the focus of the nation’s grief.

In the evening, Polish President Andrzej Duda left a wreath and lit a candle to honour the victims who died, a day ahead of an official visit to Romania where he will meet top Romanian officials.

President Klaus Iohannis gave blogger and photographer Claudiu Petre, and drummer Adrian Rugina the National Order for Merit for “the courage, altruism and dedication they showed …trying to save lives, paying the supreme sacrifice.” They both returned to the club, saving people before dying. Rugina was not in the Goodbye to Gravity heavy-metal band playing when the fire broke out.

The three owners of the club were questioned by prosecutors Monday in connection with the fire, on suspicion of manslaughter and involuntary bodily harm.

Raed Arafat, an emergency situations official, said a handful of specialists have arrived from Israel and France to help treat the 140 people who were hospitalized.

The Israeli medics are working at the Bagdasar-Arseni, an emergency hospital. Hospital spokesman Andrei Carantino told The Associated Press the medics had brought special bandages to treat severe burns and would work with Romanian doctors there, but not operate. Carantino said seven patients at the hospital have critical injuries.

Arafat said that even if burns patients initially survive their injuries, medical problems can continue long after as “they tend to evolve in a stable manner and then start collapsing.” He said some cases need frequent operations and their wounds need to be cared for.

The government says it will cover patients’ medical costs.

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