Fire tore through the sleeping quarters of the academy of Flamengo, one of Brazil's most popular professional football clubs Friday, killing 10 people and injuring three, most likely teenage players, authorities said.
Firefighters were called just after 5am local time to the sprawling Ninho de Urubu training grounds of the Flamengo football club in Rio de Janeiro's western region. Overhead images captured by an Associated Press drone showed a smoky, charred area of the complex.
"We are distraught," Flamengo President Rodolfo Landim said outside the complex, where friends, fans and neighbors gathered, some forming a circle to pray. "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."
Two of the injured youths were hospitalized in stable condition and one was in critical condition, she added. 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.
Several people who appeared to be relatives entered the complex without speaking to reporters. Some were crying.
"These boys suffer so much in pursuing their dreams" of becoming professional players, said Caros Eduardo Araujo, a fan who left a bouquet of flowers at the gate of the complex. "I've been shaking since I heard the news."
Jefferson Rodrigues, who runs a small inn near the club, said he had reached a 15-year-old player he had befriended.
"I am very happy. I just spoke to Caix Suarez and he is alive," said Rodrigues, adding that the youth told him he ran when he saw the flames. "He lost his phone, and all of his things, but the important thing is he is alive."
Joao Pedro da Cruz, a 16-year-old player in the Flamengo youth league, told the G1 news portal that he decided not to spend the night at the facility because the team wasn't going to train on Friday, and he went to a friend's house instead.
"The majority of them (the team) stayed, my friends stayed (at the facility)," he said. "Today I woke up and heard this terrible news."
Like many professional clubs in soccer-crazed Brazil, Flamengo has a development program for promising young players. Many, particularly those who live outside of Rio de Janeiro, stay at the facilities while training.
The dream of many youths in Latin America's largest nation, winner of five World Cup titles, is to make it into the professional ranks. The academies identify talented players at a young age, working with them as they grow, and the best eventually play for Flamengo or other teams in Brazil.
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.
As news of the fire broke, several teams and players tweeted their condolences.