The first set of funerals for the victims of the Brazil nightclub fire are expected to take place shortly in the university town of Santa Maria.

The blaze at the Boate Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil, has left 233 people dead, lower than the earlier death count. Many are still battling for life in hospitals in Santa Maria.

The families of the victims have been devastated by the incident. Scores of coffins have been kept in a nearby gym. The gym is being used as a temporary mortuary as the hospitals are running out of space and facilities.

Barring three, all the victims have been identified. Local reports suggest most of the victims were aged between 16 and 20. They included 120 men and 113 women.

Santa Maria has a population of about 275,000 people of whom more than 25,000 are students.

The fire is said to have broken out after a band let off fireworks. Most of the victims died after getting suffocated by smoke while scores of others were trampled in a panic-driven stampede.

Jamming of the exit is reported to have resulted in many deaths. Initial reports suggested that the survivors were blocked from one exit by the club's security guards thinking that the revellers were trying to flee the bar.

Colonel Guido Pedroso de Melo, the fire chief of the state said: "We ran into a barrier of the dead at the exit. We had to clear a path to get to the rest of those that were inside. Security guards blocked their exit and did not allow them to leave quickly. That caused panic," adding: "The problem was the use of pyrotechnics, which is not permitted."

He said the club was overcrowded with more than 1,500 people making it difficult to escape.

Survivors' Accounts

"Smoke filled the place instantly, the heat became unbearable. People could not find the only exit. They went to the toilet thinking it was the exit and many died there," Murilo Tiescher, a medical student who survived the fire, told GloboNews TV.

Another survivor, Aline Santos, 29, told the channel: "It was really fast. There was a lot of smoke, really dark smoke. We were only able to get out quickly because we were in a VIP area close to the door."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was in Chile for a summit of Latin American countries and the EU, has cut short her visit.

"I would like to say to the Brazilian people and to the people of Santa Maria that we stand together at this time, and that even though there's a lot of sadness, we will pull through," Rouseff said before leaving Chile.

Rouseff, who started her political career from the same state where the tragedy has taken place, has assured all possible help for the victims and their families.

This is believed to be the second worst fire tragedy in Brazil after a devastating circus blaze in 1961 that killed more than 500 people.

A relative of victims of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub attends a collective wake in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
Relatives of victims of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub attend a collective wake in Santa MariaReuters
Relatives of victims of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub attend a collective wake in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
A banner by a company which organises graduation parties showing a student celebrating her graduation hangs beside Boate Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
Relatives of victims of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub attend a collective wake in the southern city of Santa Maria, 187 miles (301 km) west of the state capital Porto AlegreReuters
Funeral home workers arrive with empty coffins for victims of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub before a collective wake in Santa MariaReuters
Army soldiers carry a coffin containing the body of a victim of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
An exterior view of Boate Kiss nightclub is seen after a fire occurred, in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
A woman, who was wounded during a fire at Boate Kiss nightclub, is transferred from a hospital in Santa Maria to receive treatment at Porto Alegre hospital in Santa MariaReuters
A man, who was wounded during a fire at Boate Kiss nightclub, is transferred from a hospital in Santa Maria to receive treatment at Porto Alegre hospital in Santa MariaReuters
A policeman and rescues workers help a man in front of the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
Relatives of victims of the fire at Boate Kiss nightclub attend a collective wake in Santa MariaReuters
Man carries a victim in front of Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
Fire-fighters try to extinguish a fire at Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
Policeman and rescue workers help a man in front of Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters
A view inside the Boate Kiss nightclub destroyed by a fire is seen in the southern city of Santa MariaReuters