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Porto Alegre, 27 January 2013. It was meant to be a Sunday like any other. The Gaucho Football championship mood was taking over the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Those who’d passed in the main university entrance exams were celebrating yet another hard day’s study. Everything seemed fine. A start to the year like any other.
However, the worst tragedy in the history of the state was about to take over the news in the midst of this Sunday mood. In the city of Santa Maria, in the Kiss nightclub, a fire wiped away the lives and dreams of more than 230 young people [en]. And as the columnist Juremir Machado da Silva said in the Correio do Povo (the People’s Daily), on the morning of 27 January, ‘all they wanted to do was have fun’.
Once the initial shock was over in the gaucho [en] interior, solidarity took hold.
The main social networking sites were used as a tool for the gathering of information about the incident, as well as a way of asking for help for the victims. There weren’t enough doctors, psychologists. There wasn’t enough food and drink. The injured needed blood.
On Monday 28 January, the Hospital de Clinicas in Porto Alegre sent out a message on Facebook, so that people would stop donating blood, as stocks had been completely replenished in less than a week:
O Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre esclarece que não está solicitando doações de sangue para esta quarta-feira. Centenas de pessoas mobilizaram-se em solidariedade às vítimas de Santa Maria e o Banco de Sangue do hospital recebeu mais de 500 doações só nesta segunda e terça-feira.
O hospital agradece a disposição de todos e conta com a compreensão dos doadores para que se organizem para procurar o Banco de Sangue nas próximas semanas.
The Hospital de Clinicas in Porto Alegre would like to clarify that it is not requesting further blood donations on Wednesday. Hundreds of people have already helped out in solidarity of the Santa Maria victims, and the Blood Bank has already received more than 500 donations on Monday and Tuesday alone.
The hospital would like to thank everyone’s willingness to help and would like to count on those who’ve already donated blood to return to the Blood Bank in the next few weeks.
Nathalia Guarezi (@naguarezi), editor of the De Chaleira blog, one of many who asked for help to try and find those who’d disappeared, tweeted:
International press coverage came out in force too. The incident was the main headline in the New York Times on 28 January. Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero), head of the North American newspaper in Brazil, tweeted one of the articles that the NY Times wrote about the case on 29 January.
The Observatório de Imprensa (Press Watchdog), one of the main Brazilian organs aimed at criticising the media, commented on the main press coverage of the story on 28 January. According to Luciano Martins Costa, who published the article about the incident in OI ‘the numbers give the scale of the tragedy, the different elements which came together to aggravate the situation give way to fury, but even so were finding it hard to comprehend the meaning of the incident in its entirety.’ Costa went on:
Os jornais de segunda-feira (28/1) tentam superar a perplexidade, mas essa é a expressão que define exatamente até onde pode chegar a narrativa especializada: quanto mais as palavras e as imagens nos aproximam da verdade, menos aceitável ela se torna.
The Monday (28.1) newspapers tried to overcome the perplexity, but this is the term which defines exactly what happens with regard to a very specialised account of what happened: the more words and images bring us closer to the truth, the less acceptable it becomes.
Flames consume Vila Liberdade
And so, at the beginning of the night on that Sunday, with a huge roar, a siren went off at Vila Liberdade, in the north zone of Porto Alegre. The community is only a few metres from the recently inaugurated Gremio Arena. The splendour of the new stadium contrasts starkly with the misery of the local area. According to Sul 21, 90 of the 150 houses were consumed by flames. At least 50 of them were totally destroyed.
According to the Civil Police and the local population, the fire had broken out after a fight between a couple in Vila Liberdade. Samir Oliveira’s report, from 29 January, explains:
Valéria é apenas uma das dezenas de moradores da Vila Liberdade que se amontoavam entre os escombros do incêndio(…) Em meio a cacos de vidro, tijolos quebrados, ferros retorcidos, esqueletos de geladeiras e carcaças carbonizadas de porcos, gatos, galinhas e cães, os moradores buscavam recuperar materiais que pudessem ter resistido às chamas.
Valeria is only one of dozens of Vila Liberdade residents who were huddled together in the fire debris (…) amongst shattered glass, broken tiles, twisted tools, skeletons of fridges and burnt bodies of pigs, cats, chickens and dogs, everyone desperately trying to recuperate anything which had survived the flames.
While the traditional media worked overtime to try and cover one more catastrophe after such a short interlude, it was clear to see that the force of the feeling to help those in the Santa Maria incident, immediately extended to the Vila Liberdade victims. In amongst the protests against the Arena and the condolences, appeals for food and clothing dominated the digital media, principally the following day.
That Sunday will never be forgotten. And neither will the solidarity.