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Rhode Island Governor Holds News Conference

Aired February 23, 2003 - 18:18   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we want to take you live to another scene of debate, where the governor of Rhode Island is giving a news conference on that horrible fire at the club The Station.
GOV. DON CARCIERI, RHODE ISLAND: Good evening. Let me start out as I said at noontime by just saying that this has been a very solemn day. And as I indicated, all of the people coming together has just been overwhelming. The kind of support from every part of the community. It has just been uplifting. It's been an amazing thing. Probably the reports I have back from this afternoon's site visit from the families and those that were there were really, truly heartwrenching and yet heartwarming. They felt that it was -- they thanked us very, very much for having organized it. There were a number of firefighters, policemen, others there. There was, as you would expect, a lot of hugging, a lot of crying.

But I think that all the family members that I spoke to just before I came here felt that they were very, very thankful for what we had put together and the way it was conducted. And I want to thank all of you. I want to thank all of you for respecting that, because it meant a lot to those families. Believe me, it meant a lot. When I acknowledged that you all had respected that, they actually gave applause. They were very, very -- I can't say enough -- very, very thankful for the way you handled yourselves and you comported yourselves in allowing them that space.

So it meant an awful lot and it made the whole afternoon for them not only solemn, but a very personal, emotional experience, one that they're thanking us for.

Tomorrow, as you know, is the memorial service at St. Gregory's in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at 5:00 p.m. That will be followed by the vigil at the civic center in West Warwick at 6:00. We have notified, we are trying to organize, actually, transportation of that for the families that would like to attend that. And I know that you have also worked out amongst yourselves protocol. And I want to thank you for that as well.

Some of the family members have actually come to us asking that there be some vehicles, some form where they can stay together, get together on an ongoing basis. And we have said that we will do what we can and we will try and help them organize that. We have also said today that by Wednesday we will be opening up what we're calling a family resource center. This morning, I indicated that meetings had taken place. A good part of the morning from different departments of state government along with nonprofits and all those that have been involved in this. And we're trying to put together a one-stop, if you will, resource center. Most likely it will be based at the Crown Plaza. We're working out with the management there, that's just been outstanding in their support for all of the families, a venue where we can do this. So that all of the follow-on kinds of issues that we talked about this morning that come up, we're hoping we will have organized in one spot families can come to, and then we will deliver -- or direct them, rather, to where those resources are available.

Let me -- two things -- actually, three. We have a correction on the number of fatalities. There are actually 97 fatalities on the site. Some of you may recall last night I said 97 and got corrected, 96. We have -- what happened that I had suspected was that after the fact yesterday morning, after the site had been pretty much secured, there was some additional work that went on and another body was recovered. So, therefore the count it now is 97 people that perished in that fire.

I know the logical question would be -- does that mean there are more? All I can say is, we have gone over the site and over the site, and hopefully there are not any more. And -- but it's 97.

I just came from the medical examiner's office this afternoon. And to check first of all on what's happening, the resources, the teams at work, they put a fifth team to work. And we're going, as we said, 24 hours a day. They're very encouraged with your help, with the help of the families, the information that's been coming in is making their job move faster.

What we just announced to the families before I came here is that we've positively identified 11 more. So that now brings it to 42. I think I misspoke this morning when I said 21, I meant 31. Some of you had said 31. I was thinking in my own mind, people, families with whom we had actually communicated.

We have positively identified right now, with those 11, 42, as I stand here at the moment. Our expectation is this evening there will be some more. Don't know exactly how many. But we're going to go -- and the Health Department, Red Cross is going to be available at the Crown Plaza for further confirmations this evening as they come forward.

So we have 42, and it's 97. And we are working very hard. I think that the sense of medical examiner is that in terms of examinations of the deceased, that will be completed some time tomorrow. That does not mean they will all be positively identified, because there is a lag between matching all of the information and so forth. But that's the good news. So I'm hopeful, very hopeful within the next couple of days we can have the vast majority of these people identified.

The medical examiner tells me that she at this point is quite confident that she will not need DNA. As they have pretty much, and will have completed the examinations, as I said. Their sense is that with the information they have that they can positively identify most -- most of the victims. What we have done also, with the assistance of the -- assistance of the state fire marshal, you remember I had said earlier that we're going to undertake an evaluation of all of the such facilities here in this state. The state fire marshal has got a meeting he's convened at 7:00 tonight. We have a team of approximately 200 deputy fire marshals that are going to be fanning out tomorrow and the ensuing days. We're going to target all of what we call Class C venues. Those are by definition places that accommodate between 50 and 300 people. The objective is to submit inspection reports on all of those immediately. After we have done the Class C, we will go onto the Class B and Class A, which are larger establishments.

Our goal is to, as I said, assess what we have, make sure we have no other venues that have similar issues or where we can possibly have this kind of disaster occur.

In addition to that, I have asked the state fire marshal to direct right now that there be a moratorium, if you will, on any indoor pyrotechnic displays at any of these Class C facilities. Until we have had a chance to assess what's out there we don't want any more pyrotechnic displays.

I'm hopeful that through this process we will, as I say, make an assessment and see what we have got to deal with, and then move forward in terms of any remedial action or -- and then I'm meeting with the legislative leaders. We're talking about any issues. As I said earlier, they evolve in terms of what we might need to do from a standpoint of any legislation.

I think that's about it that I have at the moment. Tomorrow, we will have another briefing at noontime, at which time I hope we will have, again, more progress that we can tell you about and some sense that we're -- we're getting some closure that's starting to happen.

I can't say enough about the -- sort of a combination. Your willingness to give these families space and their -- their absolute heartfelt thanks to all the people that have come forward to support them. I find it very difficult when I go over there, as I just did now, and when I find these people saying to me, "thank you." "Thank you for everything that you are doing." And that means that everything -- the whole community has come together to support them on.

It's not appropriate to thank me. I said, I thank them. The way they have comported themselves, the way they are dealing with this extraordinary tragedy, it's -- it's something to behold. It's a lesson for all of us in -- in faith and what life and what people can do under extraordinary circumstances. It's just an absolutely wonderful group that really very much appreciates you and your giving them space, and appreciates all of these people here, and the entire community that has come out to support them in so many ways.

So, I think it's important that you understand that. I cannot convey to you the -- the emotion and the feeling that these family members have, and the thanks they have for -- and acknowledgement of everything that we are trying to do to help them through this as quickly as possible.

So, I'll take any questions.


CARCIERI: I believe it was on the same site. And no, I don't know exactly where in the building, and I believe it was Saturday morning, because I know I had visited with my wife to the site Saturday afternoon, and was speaking with one of the deputy marshals, and he had indicated to me that they had found another body and that's why I last night said 97 in my own mind, but didn't challenge it until we could confirm it absolutely. But I have confirmed it with the Medical Examiner's Office. They have counted the number of bodies they have there and they've confirmed it's 97.


CARCIERI: I don't know that. I don't know whether other people have applied. All we're saying right now is don't bother applying. We're not going to issue any permits anyway, so we're putting a moratorium on anything in Class C facilities.


CARCIERI: I don't know that.

QUESTION: Governor, how many of these clubs are out there and how long will it take and what type of things will the deputy marshals be looking for?

CARCIERI: I don't know. I don't know, Jesse (ph), if you have any sense for how many of these clubs, whether you want to comment on what you'll be looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just a general inspection. We're going to conduct a general inspection as they should in places of assembly, A, B, and C type, concentrating on C originally as the governor said. And, I do not have a count on how many there are in the state of Rhode Island. This would give us a good thumbnail sketch of what it is.


CARCIERI: Wait a minute, let me just -- wait a minute, one at a time.

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge had you walked into "The Station" the day before this terrible disaster would there have been violations? To the best of your knowledge was this place up to code?

CARCIERI: I don't think -- let me just say what we're trying to do right now is first of all assess what was in there and we don't know that yet. So, when we know what was in there, I think that from the fire marshal's standpoint there are certain kinds of material that we know should not be in those facilities. That's one of the things we'll be looking for. Question over -- another question.

QUESTION: Yes, on that very point so what kind of -- so what are the certain types of foams that are more dangerous than others?

Can you describe what the differences are and what you'll be looking for as you go out and look at these foams? I mean some patrons might be out there right now (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARCIERI: Well, first of all that's why we're doing this. That's why we've said no more pyrotechnic displays until we can make an assessment of the kinds of materials and that's what we will be doing.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If Jesse could please explain the technical differences in these foams, what are the different types of foams that are dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would take too long a period for this news brief so I don't intend to go into all the various kinds. There are many kinds as I mentioned to you earlier today and we're going to do a general inspection, report back, see what we have, and then we're going to take appropriate action.

CARCIERI: Let me just say you all know, as I said earlier, there are some of these materials that are highly flammable that are not appropriate for this use and these facilities. There are other kinds of materials that are flame retardant and are appropriate and are used. We just got to ascertain that. That will be part of the process.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just less than two months ago. Are you suggesting that the regulations are not up to the capability of protecting?

CARCIERI: That's very possible. I don't know, Bill. That's one of the things we need to look at in this process. I am not sure we've even -- as I stand here I'm not sure we're capturing the right kinds of information, all right, and so that's all part of the stuff we have to look at.

I said I want to know where these are. I want to know the condition they are in and what's inside them, because obviously what happened here was this building went up very rapidly. So, whatever materials were being used in here, possibly, don't know this, this is what the analysis is going to take but it would certainly appear contributed to the volatility of that fire. So, we want to understand that better and undertake this kind of analysis.


CARCIERI: I don't know that.

QUESTION: Your investigators have had a couple days to gather evidence. Can you detail what you do know about the pyrotechnics, about the foam, about permission for these types of devices?

CARCIERI: That analysis has not been completed yet.

QUESTION: Governor, could you give us ... CARCIERI: Go ahead, over here.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Are they making themselves available? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARCIERI: I have not spoken to them today. I don't know if the attorney general wanted to make any clarification on what he said earlier.


QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) make themselves available to the investigation as they have to the press (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Have they not been making themselves available? What's their level of cooperation? Would you say they've been cooperative or would you say they've been less than cooperative?

LYNCH: Jeff Derderian responded to some questions shortly after this unfortunate incident. There are questions that all of us want answered. In the criminal investigation there are answers that we need and we would enjoy the opportunity having the Derderians respond to questions that we have.

QUESTION: And they have not responded to those questions?

LYNCH: There are outstanding questions we would like them to respond to.

QUESTION: Have they not made themselves available, is that why they're not responding?

LYNCH: I have no comment on that.


LYNCH: I have no comment on that.


QUESTION: Governor, you had said something about families who didn't know, hadn't come forward yet (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARCIERI: Well, I'm not aware of any more beyond the one that I mentioned this morning, the family from California that had just come in this morning had found.

We don't know -- I suspect what will happen here as we get further in the identification process and we get down to fewer numbers, we'll have a better sense of whether we have families who have submitted missing persons reports that will match up with victims, and whether we have a situation where we possibly might go through this.

I don't know this. I'm not saying this is the case but it's possible we could get down and find we've got a victim for whom a missing person report has not been submitted, don't know that.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talk to us about what the federal government might be able to offer in terms of support for these victims? I know that you're talking about assembling State Department heads. Is there any role for the federal government here?

CARCIERI: Well, in terms of the victim, let me just say and I'll let the Senator respond because we met on this issue after the noontime briefing and we spent a fair amount of time. FEMA personnel are here, as you're aware, and we have been in contact with the White House.

We are intending to submit a letter designating or asking for a declaration of disaster. Whether -- this -- as we understand it, this situation does not fit exactly FEMA but there is discretion on the part of the president. We are pursuing that. I'll let the senator respond.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you, governor. Bill, as the governor indicated we both spoke to Andy Card, the chief of staff. We stressed the horrific suffering that's going on here in the community, the cost, but it does not fit precisely the definition of a typical FEMA supported disaster.

But we, as the governor indicated also, we've already had the informal participation of FEMA. We have the de-mort teams which are from the Department of Health and Human Services, 25 personnel and the mobile morgue facility are here. We also met this morning, and the governor indicated, not only with state officials but Social Security Administration, the Veteran's Affairs Administration.

We are cooperating with the state to provide the ongoing resources and we're taking every opportunity, both the governor and I, to urge maximum federal support and we won't rest until we get all the support that's legally authorized for the state of Rhode Island and this great real crisis, not only in terms of the response but also the follow-up which could take weeks and months.

QUESTION: Senator, did they say no, maybe or fill out an application?

REED: The response we have is that they are -- certainly they will seriously consider the request the governor has made because they do understand the impact in this community of the first at "The Station." 97 innocent individuals killed, the impact on families, the cost of the individuals and their families.

They are looking seriously. They have to follow the law. There is discretion. If there is any possible discretion we've asked through Mr. Card, the president exercises discretion to help the state.

QUESTION: Do you have more names?

CARCIERI: The other thing I would say that Senator Reed and others have emphasized that even if we're unsuccessful in this that we're asking them that they as well help expedite other channels because there are many channels of possible sources of support for us beyond FEMA. So, we're pursuing all of those different directions and we'll just have to see how that plays out.

LIN: We've been listening to Don Carcieri, he is the Rhode Island governor, on the latest -- on the investigation into what happened at the club, "The Station."

He did up the death toll from 96 up to 97. There was an additional body found in the ruins of that club but he is saying that almost half, 42 of the victims have now been identified. He expects that identification process to be completed over the next couple of days. They will not be needing DNA in order to identify all the bodies. They've been successful so far with dental records.

And, some positive news at least coming out of this tragedy that the state of Rhode Island has upped the number of fire inspectors to 200. They are scanning the state looking at different clubs and the fire conditions inside. They have put a moratorium on any pyrotechnic displays to be used in any entertainment acts until they determine how flammable, how dangerous any of these clubs might be.

CNN's Bob Franken also standing by nearby where that press conference took place, Bob I'm just wondering is it clear yet what these fire inspectors are going to be looking for because the governor seemed to be pretty vague about it?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what they want to look for is an unsafe condition in any of these buildings which would require that there are very stringent restrictions on the ability to set off fires or pyrotechnics, that kind of thing.

For instance, this particular club was a very old building. It was an old wood building. Exits might not have been as marked as maybe they should have been. That would be the kind of thing that they'd be looking for. They'd also be looking at the material that's used for insulation.

There have been any number of reports that this material. The foam material went up very quickly. Now, behind me is the area that is once again closed. You might remember about an hour or so ago we made a report from the site. They let reporters on to look at the memorials that were being put up on that site and to take a look inside where the club had been. Of course it's just now a charred area.

But once again it's been shut down. They have a variety of investigators going over it, looking for evidence, looking for any clues, looking for anything they could find. Of course, what we heard from the governor is that one of the things that they found on Saturday, Saturday evening, was still another victim. They are hoping against hope that they have found as many as there are. Of course, as you heard, the number is now 97.

But that area in back of me now is sort of a combination of an official investigation and, as you can see in back of me, it's also become a memorial that grows every chance people have, bringing their flowers, bringing their memorial to try and mark the sadness that this entire state feels, sadness that of course is reflected around the world -- Carol.

LIN: Yes, indeed. It was just a shocking event. Thank you very much, Bob Franken live at the scene. An official memorial service and a vigil at that site will be held tomorrow starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.


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