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Fire, Panic and a Locked Main Exit

"We're all in a state of shock right now," said an exhausted Julio Rodriguez, 38, whose 16-year-old son escaped from the club with minor injuries. The son called him on his cell phone afterward, and Rodriguez came to help pull bodies out of the club late Thursday. "It is difficult to think about who is guilty, but people have to learn that they cannot leave exits closed," he said.

The fire came five months after nearly 400 people in neighboring Paraguay were killed when a supermarket caught fire. In Lima, Peru, more than 300 people died three years ago in a crowded shopping area following an explosion at a fireworks store.

Rescuers help the injured outside the Republica Cromagnon club, where a main exit had been locked. (Gustavo Seiguer -- La Nacion Via AP)

The Thursday night blaze in Buenos Aires recalled a similar tragedy in Rhode Island in February 2003, when a pyrotechnic display at a nightclub ignited soundproofing material during a concert by the band Great White, killing about 100 people and injuring about 200.

At a Buenos Aires municipal building where officials set up an information clearinghouse for those seeking missing friends and relatives, people clutched cell phones and paced nervously Friday afternoon.

Lara Cabrera held four snapshots of her cousins Silvia, 17, and Mattias, 21. Both were still missing, she said, though a friend had reported receiving a call from Mattias about two hours after the fire. Silvia, shown smiling at a birthday party in one snapshot, had not been heard from.

Cabrera showed the pictures to anyone she thought might be able to help. She described Silvia as having a tattoo on her shoulder reading "La 25," the name of another rock band.

"We've been to every hospital and every morgue," she said. "But we don't know where they are."

About an hour later, as Cabrera and six of her relatives sat along a curb outside the municipal building, their cell phone rang. Within minutes, the family members collapsed into one another's arms in tears. Silvia had been confirmed dead at a morgue.

Red Cross workers huddled around the family members, offering cold water and guiding them to a cushioned van. But none of them could stop weeping.

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