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Governor of Rhode Island Holds Press Conference

Aired February 21, 2003 - 11:39   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're bouncing back between these two developing stories. This is the Governor Donald Carcieri of Rhode Island talking about the nightclub fire that took place last night.
Let's listen to the governor.


GOV. DONALD CARCIERI, RHODE ISLAND: I just arrived here less than an hour ago. I found out about this around midnight last night. I have been on the phone whenever I could, almost continuously, to get here. I got a 5:30 flight, with great help and great cooperation, I want to say, from all of Florida, compatriots of our troopers. They were just terrific, in terms of getting me out and getting me here.

Obviously, we're all shocked. We're all really deeply, deeply saddened that something like this should happen, shouldn't have happened, didn't need to happen.

As we dig further and further into this, we're just going to find that people made some bad decisions about what to do.

In any event, I think the most important thing is all of our thoughts, all of our prayers need to go out to the families, the families of the people who were affected here. We're in a long process right now, of trying to identify people that we can.

And unfortunately, the process of identifying others may take more time. I want to say, also, that from every report I had from the first I heard about it last night, I can't say enough about the people that responded immediately to the scene here all over. The West Warwick people, supported by our whole EMA team that came together, support from rescue squads. I think virtually every community in the state in some way has supported this effort. And that, in my mind, is really heroic.

And if you go down there, you see people are dropping off food, they're dropping off drinks, everything, just coming in here, pouring in in support of the firemen that are working and the rescue teams and trying to pull bodies out of that terrible, terrible disaster.

Needless to say, I've been here my whole life, born here. I don't recall anything of this magnitude in our state's history. It's one of those things that defies words. You cannot describe, again, the sadness of something like this and the impact on so many families, and it didn't need to be. But I all need to point out, I just came from down there. We walked the site, talked to a number of people, the firemen. There is actually -- they're still pulling bodies out. That scene is still unfolding down there. We don't know exactly still yet. We're trying to get a count. I think when the Red Cross speaks here, We're trying to find out what the status is at any of the community hospitals. As you know, we've got over 160 people now in various hospitals in the community.

We think right now that the confirmed death toll is in the order of 65, and it may be higher, because they're still pulling out parts of the floor, parts of the building where it's obvious that people were trying to get out and couldn't. So that's going to be something.

And as the day unfolds and work crews there get that scene untangled, if you will, we'll see what the count actually is there. Right now, the biggest job that we can do for all the families impacted here is try as fast as we can to identify people. What we're trying to do now is get from the hospitals, those where they've got confirmed identification of people in the hospital, and get that information. That's all being funneled right now. The important number is 462-7111. That's the important number. You're going to hear, for example, if somebody was at this club, made it out of here, and left, please let their family know, let their friends know, let their loved ones know, so that we're not wondering whether they're still unaccounted for. That's very important, because right now, if we can identify as many people as possible, then we'll put that part at least behind us, and then the next question is the process of identifying those that died and that's going to be, depending on the circumstances, it may take a lot longer. Those are just my thoughts.

We're going to have a briefing. They're going to brief me. I just got off the plane, came right here, walked in, talked to a lot of the rescue workers, talked to our team. I have to say, again, and I heard this from West Warwick people, that the effort on behalf of emergency management, our whole state effort, bringing everybody together really did the maximum possible in a very, very tough situation here, very tough. You couldn't have survived long in that building clearly, if you look what it looks like right now. So a great effort on a combined basis to try and get on top of what is a terrible, terrible tragedy for us.

What I'll do -- here's what I'm going to do, because we've got people that have been working on this, all right, and let me introduce, first of all, Jesse Owens is the fire marshal. Let Jesse respond to any of your questions. I really want, before I do that, you can see the kind of care and concern in this state, because you've got Senator Reed here. You've got Senate President Irons, Majority speaker Bill Murphy. He is a West Warwick native. This goes right to his heart. It goes to all of our hearts. But this is his town. And So many others here, just as a show of support and an expression of sympathy really for all the families. So with that, let me ask the fire marshal, Jesse -- Yes.

It looks like it was started by the pyrotechnics, and that shouldn't have been. You had no business putting off pyrotechnics those in that building, as far as I can say. Somebody made a bad decision. We don't know if they were permitted or not.

QUESTION: When you said it shouldn't have happened, it didn't need to happen?

CARCIERI: Didn't need to happen. I'm absolutely sure. People were here to dance and enjoy themselves. Somebody made a decision to put off these pyrotechnic displays and that started the fire. Didn't need to happen. Shouldn't have happened.

QUESTION: Do you know roughly how many people are unaccounted for?

QUESTION: How did the fire spread so fast? Where were people located in terms of trying to get out? Were there any blocked entrances?

JESSE OWENS, STATE FIRE MARSHAL: Well, at the present time, as you know, this situation is under investigation by several agencies. And we cannot identify the exact type of pyrotechnics that were used, so we're doing that. That's being accomplished now. I don't know where everyone was at the time of the incident, although we're doing that investigation, along with the locating the type of pyrotechnics.

QUESTION: Is there an active criminal investigation right now, fire marshal?

OWENS: All I can say at this point, there is a thorough investigation being accomplished by several agencies, the state fire marshal's office, the local West Warwick Police Department, the West Warwick Fire Department, the state police and Alcohol, Tobacco And firearms, part of the federal government.

QUESTION: The governor said that there shouldn't have been pyrotechnics in a place like this. In your experience, should they have been inside this club?

OWENS: My experience is relative. I agree with the governor, of course. However, we need to do some investigating, and that's what we're accomplishing at this time, to determine the type of building, all the contents and so on and so forth, that we do a normal investigation.

QUESTION: What kind of charges could stem from a case like this?

OWENS: I cannot tell you what all they would be at the present time.

QUESTION: What would have caused the fire to spread so quickly.

QUESTION: Club owners are supposed to have is a permit. Did they have the permits?

OWENS: I can't tell you whether they had a permit or not at this time. But anyone that uses pyrotechnics in the state of Rhode Island is required to have a certificate of competency from our office and a permit to use the same in whatever facility they are permitted to use it in.

We're checking on that as we're talking now.

QUESTION: What caused the fire to spread so quickly?

OWENS: I cannot comment on that question at the present time.

I was not there when the chief made the remarks. However, we're looking into all of that, and I cannot comment on it. I don't have that information present.

QUESTION: How many people are unaccounted for?

OWENS: That's what we're looking into.

QUESTION: Why did the fire spread as quick as it did?

OWENS: Apparently, because it was combustible, and it was a combustible thing. I can't tell you specifically, because we haven't completed the investigation. As soon as we complete that, with other agencies, we'll be able to discuss that intelligently.

QUESTION: The building did not have sprinklers. We were told earlier that it didn't have to have sprinklers, a building of that size, is that still correct?

OWENS: As far as I know right now, yes.

QUESTION: Who is responsible, the building owner or people who own or manage the club?

OWENS: I cannot tell you who is responsible at the present time until the investigation is completed.

KAGAN: We've been listening in to a news conference from Rhode Island, with fire officials, also with the governor, Donald Cartieri, about the tragic nightclub fire that took place last night. The governor saying that so far, they believe 65 people are dead, more than 160 injured.

Unfortunately, they are still pulling bodies out of that wreckage. The governor saying it best, saying this shouldn't have happened, and it didn't need to happen. Why it did happen, and why that fire spread so quickly? You were hearing officials say they still need to do more investigation and to get answers as to exactly what happened last night there in West Warwick, Rhode Island.


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