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Rhode Island Governor Discusses Nightclub Fire Investigation

Aired February 21, 2003 - 16:54   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: But now, we want to take you back to the story of that horrific fire overnight in Rhode Island. This is the governor, Don Carcieri, talking with reporters in Providence.

GOV. DONALD CARCIERI (R), RHODE ISLAND: ... leaving 71 at our area hospitals.

Of those 71, approximately 25 are in critical condition. So, obviously, when you take the 10 that we've transferred that are serious and the 25 in critical condition, we're still touch-and-go with a lot of people. We have also found out that over 60 people actually have surfaced that were there, made it out, went home, and now have come back and identified themselves as having been there.

So, if you do that arithmetic, that says that there are 187, plus 63, I guess it was -- 60, I'm sorry. It was 247, whatever that is. And right now, they're almost finished, about finished at the site. The general just tells me they just completed. I was over there. We've had two briefings over there and came over to meet with the families.

They've just had two final sweeps of the site. We think that we have recovered all of the bodies there. The count of bodies that have been removed is 95 -- 95. Now, until the medical examiner's office has examined all of those to make sure that it's 95 individuals -- let me put it that way. So, if you do that arithmetic, it sounds to me like there were over 350 people in that building, when you take the 187 and add the 60-some and then add 95.

So, it obviously was a situation where, if you didn't get out fast, you didn't make it. And I credit two things, heroic effort on the part of the initial responders, both from the West Warwick Fire Department and others, at getting people out of there. They think they got as many as 100 people out of that building quickly. After that, there was little chance.

And the fact that we transported 187 in short measure to area hospitals was also a measure of the effort, the coordinated effort that went on here. So we're through, we think, the first stage, which is, we've accounted for the people in the hospitals. We now think we've got a final count. I'm headed over there from here to make sure and get the absolute update on the scene. We think we have a final count of how many have been removed. Now, the whole process -- and we just came from talking with the families -- is trying to make the identifications as fast as possible, as fast as possible. There have been a handful that we have identified. And the families will be communicated with as we speak and over the next hours.

We have just asked for additional resources to help us go 24 hours a day, around the clock, with the identification process, because, right now, we've -- at the rate at which we've been identifying them so far, that is not to anyone's satisfaction. And I promised the families that we'd bring in whatever resources we had to make the identification process go as quickly as possible.

Obviously, it's a very, very difficult, emotional scene there. The range of disasters and tragedies, you can all imagine, just about anything you can think of -- and the people, the families just wanting to know for certain where their loved one is. And so we're doing everything we can right now and trying to assure them that we're working on that and bringing in whatever resources, as I said, that we can to make that happen quickly.

This is unprecedented. We could have -- it wouldn't surprise me to see a fatality reaching over 100 when all -- you know, those that are in critical conditions and others. And this is just unspeakable. And it should not have happened, that many people in that building.

And from my discussion with people, there was a couple that actually got out -- that actually got out and they had the presence of mind to know that something was wrong and went out the backdoor and their description to me was that in 30 seconds, 30 seconds, if you weren't out of that building in 30 seconds, you didn't have a prayer. So it -- and there's a whole investigation going on right now as to what caused it, exactly, what the materials were that combusted, what kinds of pyrotechnics were utilized. That's all ongoing and there's a series of investigations that I won't comment on just to say that that's ongoing.

Needless to say, you know, our hearts break, as I said to the families in there, for all of them. The loss here is just, you know, so terrible. It's just so terrible.

The thing that I also would say is we should be proud. The responds from across the state has just been absolutely phenomenal. I think virtually every city and town has been represented either with the rescue crew, an ambulance, a rescue van -- or whatever. Every body has come out. I saw over there people bringing food and drink for the rescue -- the workers there, as they would take a break.

And the outpouring of, you know, sympathy and the outpouring of love is just something to behold. So I don't know if -- Dr. Nolan did not come here so



QUESTION: You said 350. That was too many. Is that beyond their capacity allowed?

CARCIERI: Well, I don't know that, OK? I should be careful. Just seems to me that that that building was not a big building. So for 350 people to be in there, you know, that was a lot of people and initially I had heard a couple hundred. But as we do the arithmetic, one of the problems we had, as I said earlier, in earlier briefings is not knowing how many people were there, you know? And being able, therefore, to account for. We just didn't know how many would be looking for. At least now we're beginning to get a sense.

QUESTION: Is there any body in the hospitals who as yet been identified (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CARCIERI: No. Everyone, to the best of my knowledge, right now, all our checking, everyone in hospitals has been identified.

There was one instance of a Jane Doe, but that person has been identified.


CARCIERI: I've heard the same report, OK. I can't confirm it. But I've heard similar reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question. The governor has to go.


CARCIERI: Well, I think that -- I don't know who I hold accountable. We've got to get into it, all right, in terms of whether there were proper permits, what decisions were made, who made the decisions. All that is going to be a process that unfolds as part of the investigation.

Right now, the thing that they want to know is, you know, where's their loved one, OK? That's the biggest thing, as I spoke with people there, on their minds. They just want to know and want closure. So we've got to do everything we can to give them that first.

The second part in terms of why this happened, who is accountable, if any one individual was accountable or individuals, that will all unfold.

Your question in terms of any additional fatalities at hospital, the answer is no. To the best of our information, no one at this point that's been transferred to any of the hospitals has died.

QUESTION: Sir, you look at the building, is it even possible that if they could have legally been allowed fire off the pyrotechnics in that building? Is that possible? It doesn't seem like it is.

CARCIERI: I don't know. There are too many of those kinds of questions. Those will all -- there's two or three investigations going on that parallel to getting at all of those kinds of questions. Right now, as I say, my principal focus is to get the, you know, the site, if you will, completely swept so that we insure there's nobody left there and then get identification done as rapidly as possible. There will be plenty of time after that to get at the causes and who is culpable, if anyone.


CARCIERI: It was very hard. Very hard. I mean, you know, you can't describe it. I mean, these are people that are either spouses, siblings and, in some cases a woman with two grandchildren, her daughter and she's saying to me, how do I tell my 10 and 12-year-old grandchildren? Very, very hard. Very hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. That's it.

CARCIERI: Go ahead. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What's that?


CARCIERI: Yes, go ahead. I'll let Admiral McKean (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we continue to support the family center with meals and with what the families need in terms of spiritual care. There are trained mental health professionals there. We're working very closely with Dr. Nolan in the medical examiner's office on mapping out a plan for when we do get to the point where we can begin notifications.

Nearly all the family members have been interviewed to facilitate that process and we are also making any assistance that the family member wants. If the family member wants someone there, a special minister or priest or health care professional, we're making every effort to contact those people as well.

QUESTION: Are you asking other states to help out (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CARCIERI: Yes. YEs. That's already started. We've already done that, because as I said earlier, I've asked that we run 24 hours a day, nonstop and we get whatever resources from wherever and that that process has begun now. So we'll have those, OK?

We've got to go. We've got a briefing over at the other site. So thank you.

WOODRUFF: A very grim news conference by the governor of Rhode Island, Donald Carcieri, saying that there are apparently 95 people confirmed dead as a result of that horrible fire at a nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island. And going on to say that he wouldn't be surprised if the death toll goes over 100 because some of the burns are so serious.

Over 180-some-odd people are in the hospital. He said there may have been as many as 350 people in a building that he said could not or should not have been holding that many people. A lot of questions today about whether the band had permission to use pyrotechnics. Many, many questions. A horrible, horrible story.



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