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Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 12:52pm
SANTA MARIA, BRAZIL — Pamella Vedovotto flips through a newspaper looking for the name of a man she calls her guardian angel.
Rafael De Oliveira carried her to safety when a fire ripped through a nightclub in this southern Brazilian city early Sunday morning.
"I don't have words to thank him," Vedovotto told CNN during an interview at her small home on the outskirts of town. "If it weren't for him, I would be in with all of those people who died. He gave me a new life."
De Oliveira, a university student, is in the newspaper's list of dead.
Early Sunday, the Kiss nightclub was packed with about 2,000 revelers, well above official capacity.
Vedovotto, a 19-year-old high school student, was at the club for a friend's birthday party.
A fire broke out during a pyrotechnic display just after 2 a.m. Panicked clubgoers ran for the exit as the air filled with smoke.
Vedovotto tried to run, but she was pushed against a metal barrier, unable to breath.
"A girl fell under the barrier and everyone was pushing," she said. "Her neck was snapped backwards and she fell dead on the floor," the student said, breaking into sobs.
"Everyone was shouting help, God get me out of here. It was hell, get me out of here."
A man, who she later would discover was De Oliveira, grabbed her and carried her toward the door. She says he pulled her yellow dress up over her face so she wouldn't breath the smoke.
"There were all these people on the floor, shouting for help, and we stepped on them, all these girls in high heels."
Vedovotto said things got worse when they got close to the exit. Security guards didn't realize there was a fire and closed the doors, probably thinking revelers were trying to get out without paying their bills, she said.
"Then they opened the doors again. But when they opened them there were already a bunch of people on the floor, screaming."
More than 230 people were killed that night. Most died from smoke inhalation and many were trampled.
Rescue workers had to tear down walls to reach survivors and get to the bodies.
Police have since arrested two club owners and two members of the band whose pyrotechnic show, police believe, may have started the fire.
Vedovotto said she has no sympathy for them.
"Everyone is dead; everyone is dead because of them," she said. "They should rot in jail. They didn't lose anyone."
But it's the thought of De Oliveira that troubles her the most.
Monday, Vedovotto went to the makeshift morgue where bodies were laid. She found his coffin and met his parents.
"I asked for their forgiveness for not keeping him from going back in," she said. "I could have grabbed him. I could have stopped him."