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CNN BREAKING NEWS

At Least 39 Killed in Rhode Island Nightclub Fire

Aired February 21, 2003 - 07:57   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to quickly bring you up to date on that horrible nightclub fire last night in Warwick, Rhode Island. The police chief there confirming at least 39 people have lost their lives. He is expecting that death toll to get up. All of those killed so far were found either at the front exits, the back exits or the dance floor at the club.
More than 160 patrons sent to area hospitals, some of them being treated for second and third-degree burns, some being treated for smoke inhalation.

There was actually a man on duty last night, a photographed named Brian Butler of WPRI, the local affiliate there that was doing an investigation on nightclub safety. And his cameras caught this horrific scene.

Let's listen to what he had to say when all hell broke loose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN BUTLER, WPRI CAMERAMAN: It was that fast. As soon as the pyrotechnics stopped, the flame had started on the egg crate backing behind the stage, and it just went up the ceiling. And people stood and watched it, and some people backed off. When I turned around, some people were already trying to leave, and others were just sitting there going, "Yes, that's great!" And I remember that statement, because I was, like, this is not great. This is the time to leave.

At first, there was no panic. Everybody just kind of turned. Most people still just stood there. In the other rooms, the smoke hadn't gotten to them, the flame wasn't that bad, they didn't think anything of it. Well, I guess once we all started to turn toward the door, and we got bottlenecked into the front door, people just kept pushing, and eventually everyone popped out of the door, including myself.

That's when I turned back. I went around back. There was no one coming out the back door anymore. I kicked out a side window to try to get people out of there. One guy did crawl out. I went back around the front again, and that's when you saw people stacked on top of each other, trying to get out of the front door. And by then, the black smoke was pouring out over their heads.

I noticed when the pyro stopped, the flame had kept going on both sides. And then on one side, I noticed it come over the top, and that's when I said, 'I have to leave.' And I turned around, I said, 'Get out, get out, get to the door, get to the door!' And people just stood there.

There was a table in the way at the door, and I pulled that out just to get it out of the way so people could get out easier. And I never expected it take off as fast as it did. It just -- it was so fast. It had to be two minutes tops before the whole place was black smoke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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