Survivors of a deadly nightclub fire and stampede in Romania say a free concert by a metal band drew hundreds of young people to an event that ended in horror.
The quick-moving fire on Friday night caused a panic; 27 people died and another 180 were injured.
More than 140 people remained hospitalized Saturday, some in critical condition suffering from burns and smoke inhalation. Officials expect the death toll to rise in what is the worst disaster of its kind ever in Romania.
Romanian Premier Victor Ponta cut short a visit to Mexico to return to Bucharest and declared three days of mourning for victims starting immediately.
Raed Arafat, an emergency situations official, said 17 of those who died still have not been identified. TV stations posted a phone number for families to call to find out about the tragedy.
The victims were among the hundreds who had gone to the hip Colectiv nightclub for a free concert by the Goodbye to Gravity metal band.
Witnesses told Antena 3 TV that between 300 and 400 mostly young people had been at the club, housed in a former factory, when a pyrotechnical show went awry. They said there was only one exit.
Clubgoers told Digi 24 television that a spark on stage ignited some polystyrene decor. Photos posted on social media appeared to show a flame emanating from a pillar covered in foam insulation as those in the audience applauded the band.
An Italian woman, two Spanish citizens and a German man were among the injured, the Romanian Intelligence Agency said.
Delia Tugui, a Spanish teacher at the American International School of Bucharest who was at the concert with her husband and son, said clubgoers were surprised by how fast the fire spread and panicked.
"The lead singer made a quick joke: 'This wasn't part of the program.' The next second, he realized it wasn't a joke and asked for a fire extinguisher," she wrote on her Facebook page. "In 30 seconds...the fire spread all over the ceiling. People rushed to the entrance but it was too narrow, and people panicked. Behind me people stampeded, climbing over each other, to try and get out."
"I was two meters from the door and I barely got out," she told The Associated Press. "People started pushing each other, stamping on each other, it was incredibly quick."
Once she got outside there was a blast and her hair caught fire, Tugui said.
"I tried to put it out with my hands and got burned. People behind me were burned from head to toe," she said.
The band’s lead singer, Alex Pascu, was hospitalized. Antena 3 TV said bass guitarist Alex Telea was reported missing by his parents, who have been searching for him.
Florentina Dinca, 38, who lives opposite the nightclub, told The Associated Press there was chaos as emergency workers tried to aid the badly burned clubgoers.
"They were very frightened, they screamed, ambulances didn't know what to do," she said. "Girls had their hair burned, they had burns on their faces. It was terror."
Bogdan Oprita, spokesman for the Floreasca Emergency Hospital where many victims remained on Saturday, said it was the worst bloodshed since the 1989 anti-Communist revolution.
"It was like a war. Dozens of surgeons were called from home and asked to operate," he said.
President Klaus Iohannis visited injured people Saturday at the hospital. He said most of the injured were unconscious and in serious condition.
Prosecutors said they are investigating possible manslaughter charges. Police spent all night in the club investigating the incident and questioning the club's owners.
The Associated Press