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Spanish city ordered closure of fire-ravaged nightclubs a year ago

Aftermath of fire in nightclubs in Murcia

By Eva Máñez

MURCIA, Spain (Reuters) -Two nightclubs destroyed by a deadly fire in the southeastern Spanish city of Murcia over the weekend had been found a year ago to be operating without a valid permit and were ordered to shut at the time, local authorities said on Monday.

It wasn’t clear why the club was allowed to continue to operate following that recommendation. At least 13 people died in the blaze early on Sunday, authorities said, Spain’s deadliest fire in decades.

The fire razed through three neighbouring nightclubs in Atalayas, on the outskirts of the city, but two of them – Teatre and La Fonda Milagros – were the most affected. The cause of the blaze was still unknown.

Local officials told a news conference on Monday that Teatre, which had a licence to operate as a nightclub and kitchen since 2008, had asked for a special permit after splitting the establishment into two in 2019.

But in January 2022, the municipality ordered it to cease all business activities, as dividing the building required them to request a completely different permit. Teatre unsuccessfully appealed the decision and the closure order was issued in October 2022.

“We are going to hold anyone who might have been responsible to account,” Antonio Navarro, the local councillor in charge of urban planning, told reporters.

Navarro, who said that municipal authorities were not aware of the nightclubs remaining open despite the closure order, said that they had yet to ascertain whether local inspectors had recently visited the venues to enforce the order.

All of the victims were found in La Fonda club, whose roof had collapsed due to the intensity of the flames, Diego Seral, a spokesperson for Spain’s national police, said.

La Fonda’s attorney, Francisco Adan, told reporters no one had ever notified the club that it did not hold a valid permit. “In fact, about a year ago, a number of modifications had to be made as a result of an inspection,” he added.

The city of Murcia will join the lawsuit against the club, officials said.

Rescuers have not found any more casualties and there were no more people reported missing, the head of the central government’s regional office, Francisco Jimenez, told state broadcaster TVE.

Spanish media reported that several of the dead were from one group celebrating a birthday.

Police have not yet been able to access the site due to the high temperatures and danger of further collapse in the building, Murcia’s mayor, Jose Ballesta, told TVE.

Firefighters were working to stabilise the structure, he added.

The remains of just three of the 13 victims have been identified so far, according to officials.

(Reporting by Eva Máñez; Writing by Emma Pinedo; Editing by David Latona, Bernadette Baum and Christina Fincher)

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