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Rhode Island Nightclub Fire Press Conference

Aired February 21, 2003 - 11:53   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Town manager Wolfgang Bauer from West Warwick, Rhode Island. Let's listen in.

WOLFGANG BAUER, WEST WARWICK TOWN MGR.: I mentioned earlier, I came down to the fire going down 95, and I think I saw more ambulances coming down 95 and going up 95 than I saw cars, and I saw Massachusetts ambulances and I think every town in Rhode Island. So this response has been universal as far as the state and outside the state, and I thin, to some degree, I can't call it a success from the standpoint of what happened, but certainly from the first responders side of the house.

And The most impressive thing, and people are telling me it may not be true, but I'm going to count on it for a long time until somebody proves me different, and that is, we put 164 people into hospitals. And up to now, I am not aware that anybody has passed away. There may well be. But up until now, we have been unable to confirm that anybody's passed away. And what that means is that the medical care our EMS people provided had to be first rate.

Some of those people were critically burned. The second thing is, and I kind of want to share with you that we're not trying to underestimate the tragedy, and at the same time, not overblow the tragedy as far as numbers. And we've been very careful to tell you what we know, and I think I've been honest with you, saying there's more. We are now at 65. And there's more. The question is, how many more, we don't know. As the governor mentioned, he gave a phone number out. We need people to call in, if they were in the facility, if they know anybody and make sure their names get on the list or off the list, one way or another so that we can start providing concise list of people that aren't here.

We're doing a variety of things with license plates of cars that were there and so on, but we still need help, and I wouldn't be surprised if the total jumped another 10 or 15 people before we're all done. I'm just giving you the size and complexity of what they're doing there.

The third thing I think from the town of West Warwick's standpoint, this is still an ongoing operation, and at the same time, as the fire marshal said, you got the investigative effort that's going on. I think the effort that really has come to light at this particular occasion is the amount of effort that's being put in at the Crown Plaza to support the people that are the members of the family and have suffered these tragedies, and I'm not really aware of what's going on, but that's a whole story in itself, so there's a three-prong approach here, and we'll get the fire chief and the police chief again to you a little later to update you.

GOV. DONALD CARCIERI, RHODE ISLAND: Let me just comment. I think we're all frustrated. Somebody asked, how many are still unaccounted for? We don't know. We don even know how many people were in that building last night. So when you start there, OK, we don't know. We're all grasping right now. And let me -- we're trying to get information from the hospitals, where they've got positive identification on people, so we can integrate that with families that know they're missing loved one, and then begin by a process of elimination, if you will. They're holding cars and checking registration on cars here, double-checking and going back on families and find out whether they had friends.

This is a case where, unfortunately, we don't have a manifest of all the people that were in that building that we can go against now and double-check, and say, yes, we've accounted for this person, we've accounted for that one. We don't know. That's the sad thing right now, we don't know.

Now, having said that, where's Sara? Sara Biloski (ph). Sara's here from the Red Cross, who is just doing a phenomenal job over at the Crown Plaza working with the families. So let me turn it over. She can tell you what's happening there. Also, I'm sure she's got some thoughts on how maybe we can be helpful in terms of finding other people.

Go ahead, Sara.

SARA BILOSKI (ph), RED CROSS: Right now, the American Red Cross is caring for the families. We have about 200 family members gathered at the hotel right now. We've got several local businesses who donated food and water, tissues and other items to comfort those folks. We have a large team of mental health professionals on scene. They're providing ongoing counseling, and we are working with the state health department in -- with the hotline that's out there right now that we've talked about, in terms of gathering information from the families and gathering information from the hotline, as the governor said, to hopefully, as we continue, put those things together.

I'd like to bring up Dr. Nolan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Nolan, head of the department of health.

The question again?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The medical examiner's office will notify next of kin as people are identified. When I talk to them on way over here, we did not -- we have not yet notified anyone. We notified the next of kin if they're at the Crown Plaza. We will do it there with the help of the chaplains and counselors there. If not, we will notify people at their homes. Once the next of kin have been notified, then we will begin making that information more generally available. QUESTION: Sara Biloski (ph), do you still have folks who are desperately trying to find loved ones?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and I think the governor's message is very important -- if you were there last night, if you were there with someone else, if you can notify your family, if you can notify the loved ones of someone that you might have been there with. The more information that they have as they're trying to identify people, the better.

QUESTION: Can I ask somebody to address the bit about the history of the club? How long has it been a club? How long has the building been open? Decades?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, maybe someone from the West Warwick. Bill, or? Yes, I remember when it was a restaurant.

BILL MURPHY, RHODE ISLAND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Yes, just briefly, speaker Bill Murphy, from the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

I am a native West Warwicker. My district is to the north of here.

I first wanted to commend the West Warwick Fire Department, and the West Warwick Police Department. In fact, one of our own representatives, Norman Landros (ph), was on the first fire truck at the scene, so our prayers go out to those firefighters that got here first and witnessed the tragedy firsthand.

Second of all, our hearts go out to the families who have lost members here in this horrific tragedy. Again, there are some people that myself, Representative Williamson, Councilwoman Dimassi (ph).

No, we won't release those names yet, because we haven't had any confirmations. But it's just a tragedy all the way around.

This club originally was an Italian restaurant years ago. It's been open for sometime. I don't know the exact years that it's been open as a nightclub.

But our understanding was that there was a good crowd in there last night, and unfortunately, when the fire started, there were people that got congested near the door, and there were trapped inside.

So the rescue efforts were tremendous on behalf of the West Warwick Fire Department and all the other neighboring agencies that combined. And also, the local police department under Chief Bruso (ph) for being here in time, and just the whole state system as a whole for coming together so quickly and working together. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers have to go out to everybody, to all the victims here, and some of the questions that have been asked I would say are a bit premature, and I think at the briefing, we'll have more information. Charlie, with not having a command of all the facts in front of us yet, I have been told that the club did not have a sprinkler system. Obviously, I would want to take a look into that.

In a building of this age, it is not. But -- the size of it and so forth, but that is something we want to get to the bottom of. I would venture to guess that it's from about 1975. It's probably about 27, 28 years of age.

Audrey (ph), that's not up to me to decide. We have ATF here, we have the state attorney general's office, we have the West Warwick Police and the Rhode Island State Police, so they will all determine -- and the fire marshal. So they will all work together collectively and determine where the investigation should proceed.

QUESTION: Have you ever been in the club?

MURPHY: I have not been in the club. I've been there when it was Pappa Brillo's (ph) Restaurant, but I've never been in the nightclub.

QUESTION: How do you start to even grasp something like this?

MURPHY: It's tragic. I mean, the worst thing was just being here a few moments ago and seeing them still taking bodies out of the club. You can't put words to those emotions. It's just a tragedy all over, and obviously, the people up here behind me now with the help of the governor, Senator Reed, Senate president Irons, Representative Williamson, the West Warwick School Committee, the town manager, the police chiefs, the fire marshals and everybody just making a collective effort. Where there's a will, there's a way. There's nothing that we can say that will bring back the live that were lost, but hopefully we can correct the situation so it doesn't occur again.

QUESTION: Do you know any of the families who had relative who's died?

MURPHY: I do. I will not mention those names, because have I not confirmed it.

Thank you.

CARCIERI: It's a small state, small town. I'm sure people will know someone. It's one of those cases where we're all going to be impacted, I'm sure -- Sean.

QUESTION: For a moment, putting aside the question of whether or not there was a permit, some larger question, whether or not there should have been pyrotechnics in there in the first place. Several of the people in there have been telling us all morning long, what are they doing introducing fire into an interior space.

CARCIERI: You heard what I said, I have fairly strong feelings on that. I like Phil was in that when it was a restaurant, and that's not a building I would want to have pyrotechnics going on based on my experience. There's a lot of issues here we're going to have to dig into. Charlie's question is a good one in terms of, are there issues we need to look at in a broader sense for these kinds of clubs? You had the situation in Chicago, and you know, we're going to have to look at all these things.

Right now, the number one task is to identify people that have been impacted here, and that's going to take time, and as Sara said, anybody who was here, please speak up. If they were with friends, please speak up so that families will know and we can begin to consolidate down.

Let me just say, I know the Representative Landrow (ph) was here as well earlier, because I said hello. He was over by the site earlier.

Also, let me just finish up with General Cintracio (ph), because one of the things we've gone through here is the whole process of emergency management. And you know, one of I suppose the good things is in going through this process and rehearsing it, I think that we responded, when I say we, we, the whole state, state and local, all of it, we responded to this thing as best right now it seems we could have.

I should point out that when I spoke to the fire chief from the airport, he indicated that the early responders feel they got as many as 100 people out of there, dragged people out of there that were trying to get out. So I mean, if it hadn't been for that kind of heroic effort, you know, there may have been even more people than this terrible tragedy.

But let me ask the general to say a few words about how the EMA, how system kicked in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, governor. Certainly, this is a tragedy for all of us, but I think if there's anything we can all appreciate is that we do have a plan. We have a strategy in the state of Rhode Island, and clearly, it worked. It worked well. The story here and the successful story is that we did collectively save 160...

KAGAN: We've been listening to a long news conference led by Rhode Island Governor Carcieri, talking about the tragic incident that took place in West Warwick, Rhode Island overnight. At least 65 people dead so far, and as the governor pointed out, they are still pulling out bodies from that fire scene.


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