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US Nightclub Fire Kills 96 - 2003-02-21


At least 96 people are dead and more than 100 injured after a fire tore through a nightclub in the U.S. state of Rhode Island. The deadly blaze is the second disaster at a U.S. nightclub in a week.

Firefighters are searching the ruins of the charred nightclub in the city of West Warwick, Rhode Island. Rhode Island Governor, Don Carcieri told reporters at the scene that as the victims continue to be recovered, the task of identifying the remains begins.

"The rescue people have identified some pockets where they are certain there are other bodies. How much higher, we just do not know," he said. "They are working as fast as they can to clear the site. This is a really tough, tough day. And I have to say if you spend any time down there with the men that are working there, they are going through a nightmare."

Some relatives of missing people believed to be inside the club at the time of the fire have been told to report to an emergency center and have appeared on television seeking information about their loved ones.

Authorities say the fire began in the crowded nightclub when a pyrotechnics display ignited the ceiling during a rock concert and swiftly spread, engulfing the building within minutes.

Witnesses say thick black smoke filled the nightclub and the lights went out, making it hard to find the exits. Many of the dead, were found near the club's main exit. Others were trampled. About 100 people were rescued from the burning building.

Officials say that a rush to the main doorway rather than three fire exits exacerbated the disaster, trapping many of the victims.

The deadly scene was videotaped by a television news reporter investigating safety issues inside local nightclubs. The video shows the powerful blaze quickly spreading inside the club in the middle of the hard rock concert.

Officials are investigating whether the rock band had permission to set off the fireworks that caused the fire. A singer in the rock band, called Great White, says the musicians had permission to ignite the pyrotechnics. The club owners say they did not.

The deadly blaze comes just days after another nightclub disaster. 21 people were killed in a stampede at a popular nightspot in Chicago.

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