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Brazil Mourns Dead from Massive Fire

Family members and friends stand around coffins containing the remains of victims after the bodies were identified at a gymnasium in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil, January 27, 2013.
Brazilians are mourning the loss of 232 people killed early Sunday in a fire that swept through a nightclub in the far south of the country. More than 100 people were injured in the disaster.

Brazilian officials say the club was crowded with with university students in the city of Santa Maria when the blaze broke out. Survivors say a band member lit a flare or firework and launched it toward the ceiling, setting the building ablaze within minutes.

Many of the victims were suffocated or trampled as panicked revelers pushed and shoved to escape the building through what survivors say was the only unlocked exit.

As the country mourns, Brazil canceled an event Monday scheduled for the capital, Brasilia, marking the 500-day countdown to its hosting of the 2014 World Cup.

The disaster comes at a time Brazil is trying to show the rest of the world it is prepared to host the World Cup next year, and the Olympics in 2016.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile early Sunday to return home following the fire.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is saddened to learn about the tragedy and is especially moved that so many young people and students were killed. He says he sends his condolences to their families.

Santa Maria is a major university city with a population of about 250,000. The city is on the southern tip of Brazil near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay.

The fire is among the deadliest ever in a nightclub. A blaze in China in 2000 killed 309 people and one in 2004 in Buenos Aires killed 194.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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