At least 27 people were killed and more than 180 injured Friday when a heavy metal band's pyrotechnical show sparked a fire that quickly engulfed a crowded basement nightclub in Romania, officials said.
Survivors said the band’s lead singer first made a joke about the fire before it grew out of control, causing a panic and stampede.
The incident occurred during a Halloween party at the hip Colectiv nightclub that was packed with 400 revelers, most of them young, Sky News reported.
Around 146 people remained hospital 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.
Witnesses at the scene told Digi 24 television station the fire began after a spark on a stage where the metal band Goodbye to Gravity was performing ignited some of the polystyrene decor.
Delia Tugui, a Spanish teacher at the American International School of Bucharest, had gone to the club with her husband and son. She said the speed of the fire surprised everyone.
"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."
"Friends were looking for each other under the pile of people. Asking `Is it you? Where are you? I can't see you. Is that your arm?' It was a nightmare."
She said she knew some would not escape.
"I realized that those on the other side of the bar would not get out alive."
Tugui told The Associated Press she was near the door and barely escaped. "People started pushing each other, stamping on each other, it was incredibly quick," she said.
Outside there was blast and her hair caught fire.
"I tried to put it out with my hands and got burned. People behind me were burned from head to toe," she said. "Other people were hairless, their clothes were half-burned, and skin burned."
Lead singer Alex Pascu was hospitalized in the Floreasca emergency hospital and Antena 3 TV said bass guitarist Alex Telea was reported missing by his parents who have been searching for him.
Survivor Victor Ionescu told Antena 3 on the telephone that there were huge flames inside the packed club.
"People were fainting, they were fainting from the smoke. It was total chaos, people were trampling on each other," he said. "It was a tragedy that could have been avoided if there had been more organization from the emergency services."
Raed Arafat, a government health ministry official, said that people were treated for burns, smoke inhalation and lesions at hospitals around the capital.
"It is a tragedy without precedent and it is an intervention without precedent," he said.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visited some of the injured at Floreasca and later wen to the nightclub where he paid silent respect to the victims.
He wrote on Facebook that he was "shaken and deeply hurt by the tragic event. ... It is a very sad moment for us all, for our nation and for me personally." He said he was considering declaring a day of national mourning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.