MARIETTA, Ga. - Flames raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday. The fire killed more than 230 people as panicked partygoers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air while stampeding toward a single exit partially blocked by those already dead. It appeared to be the world's deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade.
Witnesses said a flare or firework lit by band members may have started the blaze.
The news of the tragedy is spreading quickly in metro Atlanta’s Brazilian community.
Channel 2's Rachel Stockman spoke to parishioners at Marietta Brazilian Christian Church on Powers Ferry Road, where they prayed for the victims.
The pastor broke the news to a few of the members, who hadn't seen the report yet on television.
“We don't expect from celebration such tragedy like this, and we are really sad, and it’s a hard feeling,” the Rev. Paulo Mendes said.
The church estimates that there are about 30,000 people in the metro Atlanta area with ties to Brazil.
“People (at the Brazilian Christian Church) know people from there. Relatives and friends could have been struck there so we just remember them and hope and pray for the best in the community there,” said parishioner Richard Hartley.
A Marietta couple said friends in Brazil were updating them about the tragedy through social media.
"It's a tragic moment for us. The Brazilian community is just in pain right now," said Nuria Sousa.
What's most upsetting to Johnathan Oliviera, who said he's attended nightclubs in Brazil, is how many young people died amid reports of few fire escapes and too many people.
"They don't care if it's a fire hazard or not. All they care is if they making money," he said. "The more people that (go in), the more money they make."
"That's what is very scary," Andressa Guimaraes said of some club patrons who were killed. "To think they were just trying to finish college to build a family."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.