A Romanian Tragedy
At its Essence: Romania's Greatest Tragedy in 15 years.
63 people have died and over 130 were gravely injured after a fire broke out at Colectiv club in Bucharest on October 30th during a performance by the band Goodbye to Gravity.
It is the most tragic event to have befallen Romania in the 21st century.
"I saw Hell"
Here is the shocking testimony of Violeta Maria Naca, an ambulance worker who was one of the first on the scene:
"Disfigured youths, many of them crying. We had two emergency vans. One of the victims was a gravely wounded young woman. She screamed at us to call in for more help. She implored me. She said there are 300 young people, burned and trampled. I called it in, crying, saying there are hundreds of burn victims.
I was crying. Burn victims were jumping on me, shouting in pain. They were trying to get into the ambulances, but we couldn't leave the badly wounded girl. They just wouldn't get out of the way.
Then, a fireman came. He held a young girl, about 18 years old, with burn marks on 98% of her body, begging me with his hero's tears, "Take her quickly. God, she's so young! Save her! I have a daughter too!"
I lost it. There were so, so many. They were packed into ambulances. The civilians were screaming, injured youths were pulling on doctors, almost tearing their clothes off.
They were begging for help, for salvation. They were throwing themselves in front of ambulances. They were punching the cars.
I have burned skin residue on me, on my equipment. The chief fireman was crying his eyes out. He was in shock. He kept screaming, "Why, God?" The young burn victim didn't even have clothes on her anymore. I then burst into Colțea Hospital, screaming, with four gravely wounded victims.
I kept screaming for all the doctors to come in, that it's carnage. Everyone was in shock. I saw hell! Two doctors from the ambulance crews stayed behind.
There were six young people, down on the pavement, in cardiorespiratory arrest. The driver from one of the ambulance crews resuscitated people for hours on end, his blood pressure went up so high that blood spurted out his nose.
There was another kid, no more than 16! 16 years old! The crew cried when he was resuscitated. They wouldn't let him die. Then they brought his brother to me, in their arms. He was gravely wounded, burns everywhere. His eyes were swollen and red, he kept crying, asking, "Am I okay? Is it bad?"
Then they brought in another one. He had burns on 70% of his body. Flesh fell off him. He kept asking if he was still alive, if it's bad. He was almost comatose. Blood and tears were pouring out of his eyes. He asked me to hold his hand. I told him I have a kid who looks just like him. He then said, "Mom, I won't die, right?" Smoke was still coming off of him.
At the hospital, parents were kissing ambulances, yelling, asking for their children. I told them the truth. I told them most victims are in a bad shape. They kissed my feet at the Municipal Hospital."
"In 30 seconds, the fire spread across the entire ceiling"
Friday's concert at Colectiv - a club housed in an old factory named Pionierul (the Pioneer) in Bucharest's Sector 4 - marked the launch of Goodbye to Gravity's second album, Mantras of War.
The band's Facebook page announced a "customized lightshow", followed by pyrotechnic effects. Over 600 people announced they would attend. Around 500 would actually show.
Goodbye to Gravity was founded in 2011. The band members were: Andrei Găluț (singer), Alex Pascu (bass), Bogdan Lavinius (drums), Vlad Țelea and Mihai Alexandru (guitarists).
One of their fans, Alex Teodorescu, went to the show and later recounted, on his blog, how the fire started.
"There wasn't any pyrotechnic show, there were no fakirs, no one fired their cannons, nothing like that. Just four cake fireworks, two in front of the stage and two on the pillars that reached the ceiling. Nothing fancy (...)
Halfway through the show the fireworks were lit and one of them caught the concert hall's sound proof padding. As we all know, in most cases, sound proofing is generally just a simple sponge, egg carton, or whatever the budget allows. At Colectiv, the sound proofing was made out of sponge. Nothing blew up, not even a pipe."
Teodorescu recounts how, at that moment, singer Andrei Găluț asked for an extinguisher.
"The fire extinguisher never came"
Delia Țugui, a teacher, was also there and escaped unscathed. On her Facebook page, she recounted to her husband and son how she ended up in hospital with smoke poisoning.
Delia Țugui remembers how the singer asked for a fire extinguisher:
"What happened? The sound proofing foam on the left-side pillar, in front of the stage, caught fire from the fireworks. The fireworks seemed relatively harmless. The problem was the foam covering the ceiling was ignited so easily.
I saw how it all happened, the pillar was about a meter away, right in front of me. The singer only had time for a short joke, "This wasn't in the program". Then a second later he realized it was no joke and asked for a fire extinguisher, but it was already too late. In 30 seconds, no exaggeration, the whole ceiling caught fire."
A video clip clearly shows what kind of sound proofing material ought to be used in clubs:
Alexandru Matei, journalist for Ziarul Financiar (a finance newspaper), was also on the scene:
"For the first few seconds everything seemed under control, one of the security guards came with a small fire extinguisher to put out the flames. "No need to panic," I told the person I’d come with, "but let's head for the exit just in case". That decision saved my life. Not even ten seconds later, the fire reached the ceiling where it spread rapidly. That's when people panicked and stampeded towards the exit."
Matei recounts the people inside could only exit through one of the two exits as the other one was blocked. It was eventually opened – or broken down.
Within 15 minutes, the police arrived in front of the club. Firemen were close to follow.
"We left 5-10 minutes after the firemen came, it was a veritable inferno. Everything that burned on the ceiling fell onto the people. There were people who came out with their hair or clothes on fire."
A Test for Hospitals
The night of Friday to Saturday was a nightmare for the doctors in Bucharest. Medical sources informed PressOne that Floreasca Hospital called in all of their doctors for the 56 victims they were sent. Those same sources indicate there was not enough blankets for the injured and some of them were even forced to wait standing up.
The caregivers didn't have sufficient resources for hospitalizing the 56: only 14 stayed at Floreasca while the others were transferred. In the meantime, Pantelimon Hospital sent patients back to Floreasca.
A journalist for Hotnews, Vlad Mixich explained why the wounded were transferred to 12 different hospitals across the city. First, he said, there weren't enough beds.
"Blankets in burn victim wards are not inter-changeable with blankets from other parts of the hospital. One of the major complications these patients face are infections and they need exceptionally aseptic conditions."
Second, during the night shift, such a high number of patients are a challenge to manage. There are relatively few specialized surgeons - apparently only 30 in Bucharest, including resident doctors.
"It was like going to war. All of the operating rooms were in use. Unfortunately, in regards to the burn victims, their chances of survival are not very high", said professor Ioan Lascăr, the chief of the cosmetic surgery clinic at Floreasca Hospital.
"A carrousel of life and death"
Another witness account from the night in question mentioned the employees of Bucharest hospitals were the true heroes. Doctors, nurses and the entire staff of the hospitals came rushing to help according to Letiția Coriu, a medic at the ICU unit of the Emergencies Hospital:
"My whole team, three residents and a new ICU specialist ran to help the emergency teams... and then the nightmare started...
Young people, burned alive, kept coming on stretchers, like a carrousel of life and death...
Youths with faces disfigured by the fire... moving their burned members in slow motion and... in shock from the pain... imploring us for a chance through their burned eyes...
Their hair smelled of burnt plastic...
Superimposed voices of orderlies: "What's your name?"... Doctors' voices: "Now we will help you sleep"...
Catheter on the femoral artery, Propofol, intubate…and, again, catheter on the femoral artery, Propofol, intubate… and again, and again, until you don't know how many you've done or to whom.
A number jotted down with a marker on the only patch of skin left on the body without burns... for later identification...
Children left without a face, burned by flames, with no fault of their own... maybe just wanting to be in a better world, for one night...
Young medics and nurses arrived after midnight from their homes... desperate to offer their help to the victims... the world. Again... I thank the doctors and nurses of the University Hospital of Bucharest for having the courage to fight for life."
Government Officials on the Scene
The first public officials on the scene were vice premier Gabriel Oprea and Raed Arafat, State Secretary in the Ministry of Health, responsible for emergency interventions.
At midnight, Oprea and Arafat left the scene of the club and triggered a Code Red intervention. According to Arafat, a Code Red means that the number of victims outnumbers the resources for emergency interventions.
After visiting the location of the tragedy on Saturday, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the investigators found strong evidence the club was not respecting basic safety laws. The State Attorney's office started an investigation, and Attorney General Tiberiu Nițu announced the examination of the crime scene has begun.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta declared 3 days of national mourning, however days later he would be mourning the loss of his job as protests throughout the country over corruption, triggered by the tragedy, lead to his resignation.
A wave of solidarity swept through Bucharest on Saturday. Over 600 people donated blood at the Blood Transfusion Centre in Victoria Square.
A Bucharest resident, Roxana, came with her daughter to donate blood. "I came here because my daughter or I could be there instead, but also because we are outraged about so many deaths that were no fault of their own. The blame lies squarely on the club as it did not have the necessary permits."
Other examples of solidarity came from companies. Some offered accommodation, drinks, food, rides after donating blood, and even free flights for relatives of burn victims.
"The best job in the world"
Among these reactions of compassion and solidarity, Anamaria Roman, a journalist for Antena 3, stirred indignation after a callous Facebook post:
"I didn’t think I’d catch another day like it after being on the scene for 24 hours during Gigi Becali’s arrest. Yesterday morning started with Udrea, and now at 8am with the fire. Some of my colleagues are still on site at the tragedy. Although I’m very tired, I can’t help but smile at the thought that I have the coolest job in the world. #antena3ishere"
Another journalist, Florin Bordeianu from ProTV, published several graphic images from the aftermath inside the scene of the fire. The pictures outraged many and they were eventually removed.
I also witnessed a regrettable event. TV producer Corina Dragotescu entered the halls of Floreasca Hospital after rubbing her eyes to make them redder as she sat next to the parents of a young burn victim and tried to convince them she was there waiting for news about her own daughter.
"My daughter was at the club last night. She’s been going out to clubs all summer, to all kinds of rock shows and shady places like this. I couldn’t stop her, but it's fine. It's fine now."
Then she walked out the door, grabbed the microphone and started broadcasting live.
Dan Matei Alexandru
Vlăduț Roberto Andy
Petre Andrei Bucă
Anda Ioana Epure
Ioana Victoria Geambașu
Alexandru Paul Georgescu
Andrei Ștefan Hamed
Alexandru Mihai Iancu
Claudiu Bogdan Istrate
Carmen Irina Opriță
Florin Cristian Popescu
Marius Ștefan Rușitoru
Simona Livia Stan