At least 96 killed in nightclub inferno
Governor: DNA might be only clue to identity of some victims
WEST WARWICK, Rhode Island (CNN) -- Ninety-six people died Thursday in a fast-moving fire at a Rhode Island nightclub, Gov. Don Carcieri said Friday afternoon, adding that only a handful of the bodies have been identified.
With 35 people in critical and serious conditions, the governor said it would not surprise him if the death toll were to rise above 100.
Because some bodies are badly burned, Carcieri said, family members might have to wait for DNA testing to learn their loved ones' fate.
Dorothy Palazzo is searching for her cousin, who attended the music show at The Station concert club in West Warwick.
"We're hoping that he walks in that door," she said. "He's got a great wife, beautiful children waiting for him to walk through the door and come home."
Other families made the rounds of hospitals and morgues, several showing photographs of the missing in hopes that someone saw them escape the club.
Pyrotechnics used by the heavy metal band Great White ignited the inferno. Owners of the nightclub have said they did not know the band planned to use fireworks, but Great White lead singer Jack Russell said, "Our tour manager set that up with the club." (Full story)
At least 187 injured people were taken to nearby hospitals, where 81 were admitted, the governor said. Ten were flown to the nearest burn centers in Massachusetts.
Investigators are sifting the charred wreckage for personal identification and belongings that might help identify the victims, he said.
Families are being asked to bring photographs of the missing to a crisis center that has been set up at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel. Grief counselors and clergy members are on hand to help families.
Carcieri said 80 people who escaped from the club have come forward and that all 81 hospitalized victims have been identified.
Carcieri praised fire and rescue crews, saying the first responders "probably saved as many as 100 lives by pulling people out of there."
Fire Chief Charlie Hall said because the wooden structure was small and was built before 1976, it was not required to have a sprinkler system. But when asked if one would have helped the situation, he said, "If there were sprinklers in this building, we wouldn't be here right now."
Great White did not have the required city permit for a pyrotechnics display, officials said Friday. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said he was dealing with "a potential criminal investigation."
Carcieri said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was involved in the investigation.
It was the second fatal incident at a U.S. club in recent days. Monday, 21 people died and more than 50 were injured in a nightclub stampede in Chicago, Illinois, that apparently began when a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. (Latest on Chicago incident)
Fire and panic videotaped
Great White, the 1980s metal group known for its hit song "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," used the fireworks to start its show at the The Station. (More on band)
Video shot by CNN affiliate WPRI showed the band performing Thursday as on-stage fireworks went off in the background. As the crowd cheered, fire engulfed the soundproofing foam behind the stage and quickly spread.
"The building was well involved inside of three minutes," said Hall.
Initially, people stood and watched the fire or casually made their way toward exits. Then panic broke out, according to videographer Brian Butler, who was taping the rock concert for a story on nightclub safety.
Band members jumped off the stage and joined the crowd, heading toward the exit.
"The whole place got tons of black smoke. We were breathing black smoke," clubgoer Lisa Shea told CNN on Friday morning. "I got knocked on the ground. People were standing on my back, my head. I was holding my head, and I said, 'I'm going to die here.' All I could think about was my mother, and I said, 'I got to get up. I got to get up.'" (Survivors' stories)
The video showed piles of people lying on top of each other, trying to push their way out of the club.
One sobbing survivor said she owed her life to people who tried to help.
"There were two girls standing at the railing, and they tried pulling me and they couldn't get me," survivor Erin Pucino said. "Then there was a man standing in front of me, and he started pulling, and he got me out. He pulled me out of the pile."
"There have been groups that were found that obviously were trampled," Carcieri said. "There are others that were found that were obviously overcome with smoke. And others that the building collapsed on."
Fire chief: Smoke hid exit signs
Hall said all of the building's four exits were functioning and that most of the bodies have been recovered from near the building's front entrance. The fire was "the main contributing factor" to their deaths.
"Human nature being what it is, they tried to go out the same way they came in" and were trapped, Hall said. "That was the problem."
He said the other three exits had signs with battery-powered lights, but people couldn't see them.
"The reason for the total darkness was the density and the intensity of the smoke that was produced by the burning materials: the panel, the soundproofing, suspended ceiling and so forth," the fire chief said.
Hall also said the building's capacity was 300 and that fewer people than that were in the club. The Station passed a fire inspection December 31, 2002 with minor violations that were corrected, Hall said.
One of the band's guitarists, Pennsylvania native Ty Longley, is among the missing in the fire's aftermath. He had been with the band for three years.
"We're still looking for him," Russell said Friday morning. "I'm going to check the hospitals. That's my main concern right now, is to find him. After 25 years in show business, nothing like this has ever happened.
"What do you say? Gee, I'm sorry? That just doesn't cut it," the lead singer said. "There're no words to express how I feel right now. I'm devastated."
A statement issued by Great White, Manic Music Management and Knight Records said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with those that have passed away, those that are suffering and to the families and friends thereof. There has been a tragic accident affecting a lot of people in a terrible way, we are deeply saddened as to what has happened."
Attorney Kathleen Hagerty, representing club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, said the fire was "an absolute tragedy" and that the brothers were "devastated and in shock."