A fire early on Friday swept through the sleeping quarters of an academy for Brazil’s popular professional soccer club Flamengo, killing 10 people and injuring three, most likely teenage players, authorities said.
Firefighters were called just after 5am to the sprawling Ninho de Urubu training grounds in Rio de Janeiro’s western region.
“We are distraught,” Flamengo president Rodolfo Landim said outside the complex, where friends, fans and neighbors gathered, some in prayer. “This is the worst tragedy to happen to the club in its 123 years.”
He did not take questions from reporters who also were outside the complex, but added: “The most important thing right now is to minimize the suffering of these families.”
The cause of the fire was not known, but Rio de Janeiro state Vice Governor Claudio Castro said authorities were looking at the possibility of a short circuit in an air conditioning unit.
In a statement, the city said the area that burned was registered for parking, not as a dormitory, adding that an investigation into the licensing process was under way.
Sebastian Rodriguez, the uncle of one of the players who died, 15-year-old Samuel Thomas Rosa, said his nephew never complained about the conditions.
“He never told me anything bad about the training center,” Rodriguez said. “He liked the environment and his teammates there.”
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella ordered three days of mourning, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a statement lamenting the fire had taken “the young lives at the beginning of pursuing their professional dreams.”
Passion for soccer runs deep in Brazil, and as news of the tragedy spread, many of the world’s best players and top officials expressed condolences.
“It’s a sad day for Brazilian soccer,” tweeted Pele, the country’s most famous player.
Flamengo is perhaps the most famous club in the country, with an estimated 40 million fans nationwide.
Supporters are so attached to their academy team that players have a motto for them: “Flamengo makes legends at home.”
Among the most famous players to come through the club are Ronaldinho and Zico, former stars on Brazil’s national team; top goal-scorer Adriano, who rose to fame at Inter Milan; and current Real Madrid star Vinicius Jr, who not long ago was living in the building destroyed by the fire.
The identities of those killed were not released but their names emerged through family members and survivors.
Rio de Janeiro state Public Health Secretary Beatriz Busch said two of the injured were in stable condition while a third was in critical condition.
The ages of the injured were 14, 15 and 16, according to a fire official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of agency rules.
Samuel Barbosa, 16-year-old who survived the fire, told Globo TV news that a lot of smoke filled the dorm.
“Most didn’t make it because there was so much fire,” Barbosa said.
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