BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Anguished family members on Sunday buried loved ones killed in a Buenos Aires (search) nightclub blaze, their grief overshadowing the New Year's holiday weekend as the official death toll crept higher to 188.
Authorities said more than 700 others were injured in Thursday's fire, which investigators believe may have been sparked when someone in the crowd set off a flare that ignited the foam ceiling. The blaze transformed the popular club into a deathtrap.
The funerals came amid plans for a pot-banging protest later Sunday as irate Buenos Aires residents demanded a full government accounting for the worst fire in this country in decades.
At one grave site, a toddler stood nearby as relatives tearfully clutched at a coffin before it was laid into the ground. At another funeral, mourners clapped spontaneously for 20-year-old Christian Viegas, bidding him farewell as his remains were placed in a crypt.
Throughout the capital, anger and anguish were palpable on what is traditionally one of the most festive holiday weekends of the year.
"Resign! Resign!" several hundred people shouted during a late Saturday, march on the offices of Mayor Anibal Ibarra (search). The town hall was shielded by helmeted riot police standing behind iron gates, but no violence was reported during that New Year's Day rally.
Protesters, in calling for Ibarra to step down, said city officials must toughen safety codes for concert halls and rock clubs.
They also demanded a full investigation of local press reports suggesting emergency exits at the Cromagnon Republic club were locked at the time of the blaze that erupted in a working-class district of the capital.
On Sunday, federal police reported two more deaths, raising the death toll to 188.
Julio Sarina, a government health care spokesman, announced Sunday that 263 victims remained hospitalized, with 117 in serious or critical condition.
More than 700 people were treated in the aftermath of the fire and Sarina appealed for victims' families to step forward to help conclusively identify about two dozen bodies at the city morgue that had yet to be identified.
Outside the morgue, volunteers handed out bottled water to a crowd of dozens who were sweltering in the summertime heat while anxiously awaiting their turn to enter the morgue and identify their loved ones.
The heat and the tension took its toll on some of the elderly. One woman fainted and was whisked away in an ambulance. Nearby, an elderly man, slumped in the heat with his shirt open, muttered: "Why so much pain? Where is my son?"
"I can't bear this! How did this happen?" said the man, who only gave his first name, Eduardo. Minutes later, paramedics checked his pulse, then also placed him in an ambulance.
About 4,000 people, most teenagers, were inside the club where the Argentine rock band Los Callejeros was performing when the fire broke out. The building has a capacity for 1,500 people, city officials said.
Thick black smoke set off a stampede for the exits as the concert hall filled with fumes. Survivors told of people struggling to force open emergency exits, which authorities said were either wired shut or padlocked to prevent people from entering without paying.
Many of the victims died from smoke inhalation, city officials said. Local reports said bodies were found in a pile near one blocked exit and a newspaper photograph showed piles of shoes left nearby.
La Nacion newspaper reported Sunday that authorities were investigating whether the nightclub had undergone city inspection in 2004.
Under fire from furious Buenos Aires residents, Juan Carlos Lopez, the city's public security chief, resigned.
Ibarra, the mayor, ordered dance clubs to close for 15 days for safety inspections and scrapped any future indoor club concerts. He said investigators were probing several factors, but declared that the "most serious breach was by someone who set off a flare in an enclosed area."
Investigators said they had identified three people believed to have set off a flare that ignited the fire, but were also trying to determine if they could be among the dead.
The club's owner, Omar Chaban, was being held awaiting an initial court hearing Monday. Police also were seeking three of his business associates.
President Nestor Kirchner, in his native Patagonia province of Santa Cruz for the holidays, declared three days of national mourning and sent condolences to the families.
At the site of the club, Argentines left candles and flowers, but much of the debris outside had been swept away by Sunday.