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CNN Today

Investigation Continues into Cause of Seton Hall University Fire Killing Three, Wounding 58

Aired January 19, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The president of Seton Hall University says his school has suffered a heartbreaking tragedy. Three people were killed when a fire broke out in a dorm before dawn. Dozens of students were taken to area hospitals, and three of those people are listed in critical condition. Investigators still are trying to determine the cause.

CNN's Frank Buckley reports from the Seton Campus in South Orange, New Jersey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Investigators say the fire broke out around 4:30 in the morning at Boland Hall, a freshman dorm for more than 600 students. Students evacuated into a cold winter's morning after awakening to the sounds of fire alarms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were pushing, people were screaming, like, everyone was panicking because there was smoke coming in through, like, like (INTELLIGIBLE) the building, because north there's a bridge in between the two buildings and the bridges were filled up with smoke.

BUCKLEY: The student and others say the fire alarms did not cause alarm at first because of previous pranks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just seemed like it was a joke at first, because, like, they've been pulled so often. But when I started hearing them screaming, like, across the dorm, like girls just yelling, like, help us, help -- I figured out it was kind of legit from that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as I came out of my room I smelled it. I smelled the smoke and then I knew to get out.

GOV. CHRISTIE WHITMAN, NEW JERSEY: This is a huge tragedy. We don't know a whole lot yet.

BUCKLEY: New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman was among officials who came to the campus in the aftermath of the fire. The first on scene: firefighters who found the blaze in a third-floor common area.

DON CAMPOLO, ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Two individuals were found immediately in that area. They were deceased.

BUCKLEY: A third person was found in a room, attempts at CPR unsuccessful.

MSGR. ROBERT SHEERAN, SETON HALL PRESIDENT: This is a heart- breaking tragedy.

BUCKLEY: Seton Hall is a Catholic university part of the archdiocese of Newark, the city's archbishop saying faith will sustain the survivors.

MOST REV. THEODORE MCCARRICK, ARCHBISHOP, NEWARK: This tragedy will not affect too many lives, will not be able -- and will not be a -- something that we cannot live through because of the faith that we have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCKLEY: Officials addressed the false alarm issue within the hour at a news conference here, saying that there have been 18 alarms called into Boland Hall since September 1st. They also updated the number of injured from this fire from 54 to 58, saying that there were 54 students injured as well as two firefighters and two police officers.

Finally, officials say Boland Hall was built before laws requiring sprinkler inside the building, so this building was not equipped with sprinklers -- Lou.

WATERS: Frank, Seton Hall is closed?

BUCKLEY: It is. Today, the campus has decided to close for the day. There are 10,000 students here. Classes have been canceled.

WATERS: Frank Buckley in South Orange, New Jersey, today.

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