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Interview With Red Cross Staff Member

Aired February 21, 2003 - 09:43   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's check in with Jason Carroll to hear what investigators are telling us now about why this building went up as quickly as it did into flames -- good morning, Jason.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning again to you, Paula.

Again in terms of why, it all has to do with those pyrotechnics that went off when the band Great White took the stage in their opening act. Those pyrotechnics ignited a soundproof wall at the club. Witnesses say after that, it was just a matter of seconds before the entire club was engulfed in flames.

Witnesses also saying at first they thought that the flames were part of the show and, therefore, people didn't immediately move to the exit. Once they realized that it was a fire, panic ensued: everyone trying to make an exit for the front door, people on top of each other as they panicked and tried to make their way out.

Investigators out here telling us that the number of 54 is expected to rise. What they are doing is they're out here using a crane to try to lift the heavy debris from the area that once was the dance floor and near the stage where they believe more bodies are buried. They also talked about the difficulty they are having in terms of trying to identify some of the people who have died. What they are going to be doing is they say that there are a number of cars in the parking lot here at the station -- nightclub. They're going to be running Department of Motor Vehicle checks, trying to trace those people, and trying to find out where those people are.

We've heard chilling accounts all morning long of how people tried to get out, how people tried to escape. Most recently, we heard from the town manager. He told us that he had heard that there were actually phone calls, people calling from their cell phones trapped, probably, in a bathroom he said, saying, "We can't get, we cannot get out."

Chilling tales from people all morning long of how they tried to escape this fire -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Jason.

On the phone with us right now is Sara Bilofsky of the Red Cross to give us an update on what families in the area are confronted with. Good morning, Sara. Just tell us what you're wrestling with right now. SARA BILOFSKY, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Paula, right now the American Red Cross has set up a family service center at a local hotel. We have nearly 200 family members gathered here today and they are waiting for information. We're providing them with updates over time, and providing them as well with (AUDIO GAP) and other refreshments, and we do have a great team of mental health workers on the scene who are providing counseling as needed.

ZAHN: Sara, are these people who can't confirm yet whether they've lost family members, or can't link up with patients in the hospital?

BILOFSKY: Right now, they are -- the information is moving in slowly, so there is an awful lot of waiting that's still going on. We know that's a really difficult thing for people to do at this point, to sit still and wait for information to come in, but again, that's why we've assembled members of the clergy, mental health professionals here to sort of ease that time as these people wait for information to come in from local hospitals.

ZAHN: We've spoken with a couple hospital administrators from Rhode Island today who told us that one of the biggest challenges they have right now is getting information out to family members that their loved ones might even be hospitalized at this hour. Can you just give us an idea of how many families have been even able to make those connections?

BILOFSKY: It's been a small number. I'd say a handful of families. Most of them are still waiting for confirmation from a specific hospital. It's certainly challenging, I think, emotionally, to people, but we are doing the best we can, and doing our best to stay in communication and provide that information as it becomes available.

ZAHN: And how could folks help you out there who have been very touched by this story?

BILOFSKY: There's two ways they can help. They can work with our sister agency, the Rhode Island Blood Center by making a blood donation. And if folks are watching anywhere in the country, I'd encourage them to give blood. You never know when a disaster is going to strike in your neighborhood. You don't know what the needs, especially in the New England area concerning this disaster, what the blood needs are going to continue to be with this many burn victims involved. You can also make a donation to the Red Cross. The work we do we do with no government funding, and it comes from generous Americans who make a contribution to the Red Cross that allow us to take care of people like this in a crisis.

ZAHN: I am just, Sara, thinking about how horrible this wait must be to these families members enduring when you're saying that only a handful of them have been able to make connections with their loved ones who are in area hospitals right now.

BILOFSKY: It is. It's very difficult, and we are doing our best to care for people as they continue to wait. ZAHN: Sara Bilofsky, thank you for taking time out of your morning to share that information with us. Good luck to you and your staff and everybody in the community, for that matter.


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