We Talked to the Survivors of a Deadly Bucharest Club Fire
Last year, a fire in nightclub Colectiv killed 64 people and injured 147. According to the people we spoke to, the high death toll is all down to corruption in Romania.
This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.
Last week, about 5,000 people gathered on the streets of Bucharest to mourn the 64 people who lost their lives in the devastating fire in nightclub Colectiv one year ago.
On the night of October 30, 2015, the band Goodbye to Gravity decided to enhance its performance at Colectiv with pyrotechnics that were set off close to the stage. The flammable foam used to soundproof the venue caught fire, which quickly spread through the club, which at that moment housed about 400 people. The crowd fled to the only fire exit, trampling one another in their panic. At the same time, Romanian hospitals were unprepared to deal with the great number of patients coming in with complicated wounds.
Even though the club's owners were held responsible for the lack of safety measures, many Romanians see corruption within local authorities as the underlying cause of the fire—Colectiv and other venues like it were allowed to be open in dangerous circumstances. In the days after the fire, thousands of Romanians protested against corruption, which led to the resignation—and in some cases prosecution—of a few local and national politicians.
A year after the tragedy, I spoke to some victims of the Colectiv club fire to see how they are doing.
Alex Plingu, 27, Architecture Student
"I suffered second and third degree burns and was in hospital for two months. I was lucky enough to meet some really lovely staff members—the nurses would kiss me on the forehead when they took me into surgery and told me it would be OK. They slept about an hour every night.
Colectiv was one of the coolest places in downtown Bucharest. But in Romania, we're money hungry. In Colectiv, there wasn't room to properly flick a cigarette butt to the floor, because the owners wanted to sell drinks at a large bar. When you build a club, how hard is it to install a sprinkler installation on the ceiling? How expensive could that be? Especially when you think about how much they're asking for an overpriced beer and the entrance fee.
I made a video about my experience from the fire, and I got comments like, "You stepped over dead bodies just to get yourself out." Actually, I was at the bottom of the pile of people. When I got out, I tried pull an 18-year old boy out. We were both crying and burned raw. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't get him out. He died. Don't tell me I stepped over dead bodies."
Oprea Mariana (Tedy), 29, Architect
"I have second and third degree burns on 45 percent of my body. They transferred me to Vienna, where I woke up from my coma a month and a half later. Only people dressed from head to toe in slippers, masks, and smocks were allowed in my hospital room.
I had sepsis, lung issues, and my blood had to be drained. At some point, my kidneys gave in, but luckily I responded well to the cocktail of antibiotics they gave me. I can't tell you where I got the infections from. I could have gotten them in hospital in Romania, or they could've come from the floor of the club—I crawled around on the floor with my burnt arms. In Vienna, they told me I couldn't leave my room because my infections could've killed patients with a weakened immune system.
Before the fire, I wasted a lot of time worrying over things. This thing made me stand on my own two feet; it helped me move forward. When I enter a club now, I immediately check how many people are in there, where the emergency exits are, the stairs, the fire extinguishers. I was aware of those things before, but I never imagined something of this scale could happen.
I'm mostly pissed off by the hypocrisy of certain influential people, who believe that what happened was a sign from God—that we deserved it. I'd like people to understand that we're all guilty—the people who owned the venue and risked our lives, but also the people going to these venues and supporting them."
Alex Teodorescu, 23, Engineer and Musician
"Whenever I see photos from Colectiv, I feel sick. When you see someone who's burned, it's tough to know you were in there, next to them, but that you came out unscathed. We pushed and shoved one another to get out—it's a burden to know that some people got burned because of you.
When it was over, I felt totally empty. I didn't have the energy to do much. I could've died and have let someone else live instead. Perhaps they could have done more with their life. I felt I didn't want to be self-indulgent and have therapy—I pretended I was just fine. I didn't go out for about a month after the fire but that feeling slowly faded. I went back to the same kind of life I had before Colectiv. I go to the same clubs I went to before, because that's where they play the music I like. They have fire extinguishers now, and they don't let as many people in as they used to. The problem isn't the clubs—it's Romania itself. Everyone knows you can't make it here by opening a legal business."
Corina Gabriela Ioniță, 31, Civil Servant
"I have second and third degree burns on 40 percent of my body—my hands, arms, back, and left calf. In hospital in Bucharest, they changed my bed sheets and cleaned my wounds and bandages, but their care was lacking in some respects. My hair was blackened from the smoke, but they only washed it after a week. By that time, bits of my hair had broke off and stuck to the wounds on my back.
After more than a week in Elias hospital in Bucharest, I was transferred to a hospital in the UK. My lungs collapsed about a month after the fire, and I was put in a coma for a while. When they sent me home, they gave me a letter for the doctors at Elias to keep me under observation and start rehabilitation treatment. But the doctors at Elias told me there was no recovery department at their hospital—even though there is one—and that I had to look for a recovery clinic myself. They wished me luck, took a look at the wounds, and told me I was fine. The government said there was a plan to support the victims, but none of the hospitals knew what to do. I didn't even get medical leave from work for the time I was abroad.
I spent months going from one institution to the next trying to get what I deserved. I went to the National Health Insurance Agency countless times to file all sorts of requests. To get there, I'd ride on cabs with open wounds on my back."
Ionut Constantin, 21, Economics Student
"That night, while I was lying in a pile of people near the exit, I thought to myself, Wait, I'm 20, what's happening? I'm going to die, and I haven't really done anything with my life yet. I had a fractured rib and lesions in my back. But I was given a second chance. So in the months since I recovered, I've started to hit the gym properly—I used to weigh about 235 pounds—now I'm at like 190.
I don't think the club owners are to blame and the hospitals did all they could do in the circumstances. After the fire, everyone was careful for a while, but now we're back to acting just like before. Last month, I was banned from the Facebook page of a student club because I sent them some pictures proving that people were smoking in their venue—which is illegal.
People told me I should try to get some of the money the NGOs have raised. I haven't asked for or taken any compensation, and I don't want to, either. Other people have told me that I shouldn't speak up because I didn't actually get burned. I've tried to ignore them."
Cătălina Marin, 35, Finance Inspector
"I had third degree burns and grafts on my shoulder, back, and on my left hand. At the hospital, I wasn't admitted to the intensive care unit, but they covered me in a wool blanket. The cleaning lady there wiped the dust from our heads, and she used the same mop in the hallways as in our rooms. I was washed by my mother and the mother of the girl I shared the room with.
If one of my wounds would fester on a Saturday or Sunday, they couldn't do anything about it because the storage room was locked on those days. They had no supplies—no bandages, no creams. The response from people in Romania was wonderful, though. They gave us so much stuff during those first few days that we didn't know where to put it. They also brought us food, warm lunches for everyone. When I left the hospital near the end of November, I didn't know what to do—the wound on my back was still open, it was raw flesh. It closed in January.
Since the fire, I feel uncomfortable in crowded places, which is unfortunate since I work with 20 people in one room, in a building that looks like it could collapse at any point."