MEXICO CITY - A fire broke out early Friday at a popular nightclub that the city had repeatedly sought to shut down, killing 20 people trapped inside and injuring two dozen others, officials said.
Police said a short circuit in the sound booth may have sparked the blaze shortly after 5 a.m., but firefighters said witnesses reported hearing several explosions at the Lobohombo club.
The blaze was extinguished within 90 minutes.
Witnesses said patrons panicked when smoke began filling the disco, and began scrambling to escape out the club's only exit. The building had no emergency exits, authorities said.
At first, security guards at the front door stopped patrons from leaving unless they could prove they had paid their bill, some said.
Survivor Sara Falcon said she and several others were begging to get out.
''Everyone was shouting,'' she told TV Azteca, wiping away tears. ''Many people were on fire, yelling and throwing themselves on the floor. Others were yelling, 'Open the door because people are burning!'''
Her aunt, Lorena Falcon Perez, also complained on national television that security guards at first refused to allow patrons to leave.
She said that here 16-year-old daughter was seriously burned but her daughters-in-law escaped safely.
''When the doctors told me about my daughter, I fainted,'' Perez said. ''It's not right what those (owners of the disco) did. A place that has events like this, should at least be safe.''
Hours after the fire broke out, hundreds milled outside the charred building, its mirrored facade shattered and blackened with smoke. Its trademark face of a cartoon dog was completely defaced by the fire.
Carlos Millan, 22, stood outside watching in disbelief. He said he went to Lobohombo at least twice a week - and had been there just hours before Friday's blaze.
''A lot of people come here. It's really safe,'' he said.
The glitzy club is among the city's best-known. Singer Gloria Estefan rented it in August for a private party; salsa superstar Willie Colon played there.
But authorities said it had a long history of trouble with the law, repeatedly clashing in court with the city.
Lobohombo was operating with a permit for a restaurant rather than a nightclub, authorities said. Its 4,700 square feet surpassed the maximum size permitted by law.
Authorities shut the club down 11 times for code violations but the owners managed to renegotiate its reopening each time, said Dolores Padierna, a local representative for Cuauhtemoc borough, where the club is located.
Earlier this year, officials ordered the club closed because it lacked a permit for table dancing. The owner secured a federal court injunction allowing it to stay open, said Maria Inez Munoz, spokeswoman for the Cuauhtemoc borough.
The last time authorities tried to shut down the club, in May, ''security police came out with dogs and armed, and did not allow access to the place,'' said Irineo Varela, who lives near the disco.
An attorney for the club's owner, Alejandro Iglesias Rebollo, disputed the allegations. City officials inspected and approved the club in June, attorney Victor Trejo Sanchez told the Radio Red network.