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Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 06:31 GMT
Dispute rages over US club tragedy
Scene of fire at the Station club, West Warwick
The whole building was in flames within three minutes
The owners of a Rhode Island club and a rock band which was playing there have blamed one another for allowing fireworks to be let off, sparking a huge blaze that killed at least 96 people.

The band, Great White, and the owners of the Station club in West Warwick dispute whether permission was given for the pyrotechnic display.

Friends and families of the missing have had to wait as emergency workers recover more charred bodies and the slow process of identifying the dead gets under way.

More than 180 people were injured in the fire, 25 of them critically.

Avoidable tragedy

The governor of the small US state, Donald Carcieri, said that the final number of victims could exceed 100, given the seriousness of many of the injuries.

People's hair was on fire, people's coats were on fire, people were at the doorway getting trampled on
John Dimeo,
clubgoer
"There was no business putting off pyrotechnics in that building. This didn't need to happen - it shouldn't have happened," said Mr Carcieri.

"If there was criminal wrongdoing, believe me it will be prosecuted," he said.

Jack Russell, the lead singer of Great White, said the band's manager had checked with the club before the show that pyrotechnics could be used.

But a statement released by lawyers acting for brothers Michael and Jeffrey Derderian who own the club said: "At no time did either owner have prior knowledge that pyrotechnics were going to be used by the band Great White".

Panic

The fire took hold with devastating speed, licking up curtains and foam cladding around the stage.

Flames leap up behind Great White
Local TV footage caught the moment the flames took hold
Some in the crowd initially mistook the flames for part of the stage show, slowing their attempts to escape.

"If you were not out of that building in 30 seconds you didn't have a prayer," the governor said.

"People were screaming and shouting," said John Dimeo who was at the club.

"People's hair was on fire. People's coats were on fire. People were at the doorway getting trampled on," he said.

Another witness, Lisa Shea, described the panic.

"I was knocked on the ground and people were stamping on my back and on my head. I was holding my head up and thinking I'm going to die here," she said.

"People were hurt very bad, but you couldn't see in front of you. Everything was black smoke and you could feel bodies on the floor," she said.

It is the second nightclub tragedy in the US in less than a week.

At least 21 people were killed in a stampede at a nightclub in Chicago last Sunday night after pepper spray was used to break up a fight.





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WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Matt Frei
"This was a tragedy caught on film from the very beginning"



SEE ALSO:
In Pictures: Disco blaze
21 Feb 03 |  Photo Gallery
Chicago club owners face charges
18 Feb 03 |  Americas
'People stood and watched'
21 Feb 03 |  Americas


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