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The BBC's Tom Carver
"Dozens were buried"
 real 28k

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"The whole tragedy has come as an unbearable shock"
 real 28k

Friday, 19 November, 1999, 14:52 GMT
Memorial for bonfire dead
Rescuers remove the 11th body from the rubble

A memorial service has been held in Texas for students crushed to death when a bonfire which they were building collapsed.

Eleven students from Texas A&M University died when the huge stack fell inwards.

Dozens of students were climbing on the stack at the university, in College Station, Texas, when it suddenly collapsed at 0230CST (0830GMT) on Thursday.

The last two bodies were recovered from the bonfire at 0215 on Friday - almost 24 hours after the structure collapsed.

Srudents pray at the site of the collapsed bonfire
The Thanksgiving Day bonfire has been a tradition since 1909 to get fans in the mood for the American football game between A&M - known as Aggies - and arch-rival, University of Texas.

At the memorial service, A&M University President Ray Bowen said: "This has been a day of unspeakable grief and sorrow."

Former President George Bush, whose presidential library is located at Texas A&M, and Texas Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry, who graduated from the school in 1972, attended the service.

The traditional lighting of the 40ft (12m) high bonfire was cancelled although some students said their dead colleagues would have wanted the ceremony to continue.

The only other time that the bonfire lighting has been cancelled was after President Kennedy's assassination.

Trapped for hours

Some 28 students were injured, five of them critically. For hours, rescuers pulled people free from between the logs. One person was trapped for more than six hours.

Students building the bonfire
Jenny Callaway, a student who was on the stack, said it just fell. "There was no warning. It just snapped." she said.

The logs had been piled up for the traditional bonfire at the university, about 80 miles (130km) north-west of Houston.

Lit the evening before the match, tradition has it that if the logs topple before midnight, then A&M will lose the game. But if the logs burn into the morning, A&M will be victorious.

Thousands of logs are stacked high to build the bonfire, using cranes, tractors and crews of students.

In 1994, a stack collapsed and a second was built and set on fire.

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See also:
18 Nov 99 |  Americas
In pictures: Texas bonfire tragedy
18 Nov 99 |  Americas
Students crushed in bonfire tragedy

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