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Rhode Island Governor Holds Press Briefing

Aired February 21, 2003 - 14:41   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to Rhode Island now, where Governor Don Carcieri is addressing reporters -- or, actually, getting ready to step up to the mike, and address reporters. Right now, an update on that deadly nightclub explosion. Eighty-five people now confirmed dead, and we're told the death toll could go higher. You're looking at pictures now inside that nightclub fire in Rhode Island. Let's listen in.

GOV. DONALD CARCIERI (R), RHODE ISLAND: As I indicated earlier, I said we'd have an update briefing for you at 2:30, and here is the current status, as best we can tell. There were 187 people transferred or treated at hospitals, 187.

Right now, there are 81 that have been admitted. Of the 81, 10 have been transferred to either Mass General or UMass, all right? Of the remaining 71 in Rhode Island hospitals, right now, 25 are still listed as in critical condition, 25. At present, we have counted 86 fatalities, 86, that have come out of the site. We believe that number is going to go higher.

The rescue people have identified some pockets where they are certain there are other bodies. How much higher, we just don't know. They are working as fast as they can to clear the site. Yes, I heard that sigh. I feel the same way. 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 this, they are going through a nightmare.

Every time they bring someone out, they stop, take off their helmets and the chaplain and they are praying over each individual person. So this is a very agonizing, emotional, draining effort. But they are doing it with consummate professionalism. And I can't be -- can't say I could be any prouder than the effort that is going on right now. It's just incredible. The determination, the spirit, if you will, in this kind of emotional atmosphere is quite extraordinary.

We have not yet notified, but we will begin notifying shortly some families where we have made positive identifications. That is going to begin soon over at Crown Plaza. There will be no public notification. We're going to notify the families individually one on one. And that will take place soon.

We are putting the highest priority on identifying the individuals. I want everyone to understand we are bringing to bear all the resources we can to get identification as rapidly as we can for the families impacted. Everyone involved in this knows the agony that every family is going through right now that has no idea where their loved one is. So, we are putting all of the effort we can, principally and first and foremost, on identifying the individuals.

I want to say again that, important -- it's very, very important, still, because we have had some cases where people have surfaced -- if anyone was at this club or knows a friend that was at this club, all right, please make that information available to the people at Crown Plaza. We have got to know, as best we can, how many people were there and who those individuals were. And we have had some cases where people left and now have surfaced again. And there were questions about where they were. So, I would ask again, please, come forward with that.

The other thing is, any families out there who still are desiring information, they don't know -- or are still missing a loved one and aren't sure, the best thing to do is go to the Crown Plaza there. All the resources are set up at that point to deal with that. Please don't call the police department or fire department or whatever. Go right to the Crown Plaza. There's a process under way with information that you've got, where you fill out a form.

But that is where all the resources are to do the best job we can trying to find your loved one or match it up with someone that we're aware of.

QUESTION: Governor...

CARCIERI: Let me just finish. There is -- a question came up earlier on a need for blood. We have spoken to the blood bank. They have said at the moment, they're OK. But I know that Speaker Murphy in the House and West Warwick people are putting together a blood drive, in any event.

There will be other things as this unfolds. We'll see what other needs we have. As I said, the community -- every community has come forward. As I stood down there, you have got people from Coventry, you have got people from Warwick, you have got people from all over, rescue people from all over the state coming here to help in this devastating tragedy for all of us. And the community has come forward with food and refreshments and so forth for the rescue workers, which are having to be alternated out.

I think that's about it in terms of facts right now. I'll entertain any questions.


CARCIERI: What's that?

QUESTION: How many people have you identified?

CARCIERI: We don't know yet. They're just starting that process. I don't have a count on that.

QUESTION: You said you had an example of people coming forward. Can you be a little bit more specific?

CARCIERI: Just someone who was there went home, OK, and then didn't know -- and then they came forward and said -- notified that they were home or at their apartment or whatever, notified their family. So, that's the kind of...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) investigation and how the fire started. Have you spoken or interviewed the guy that actually set up the pyrotechnics or the club owner, or both?

CARCIERI: There is an investigation under way on all those fronts. My understanding is, they are and have interviewed and are interviewing those. That process is going to be ongoing.

QUESTION: Can you address reports that the club was overcrowded and that there were (OFF-MIKE) that may have been in there?

CARCIERI: I can't confirm that. As I said at the earlier briefing, we don't know how many people were there. As we get survivors, people that came out, and the process of investigation goes on, they interview. But trying to speculate on how many people were there, that's all it would be right now, speculation.

QUESTION: But earlier you said that it was, as far as you know, within the capacity of limits.


CARCIERI: No, I didn't say that. I said we did not know how many people were there. So, I did not say that.


QUESTION: We have confirmed that this band, two days ago, in Maine set off pyrotechnics in a club without asking permission to do that and then also did that on Valentine's Day at a club in New Jersey. So, can you tell us, at this point, who would be responsible or where the liability would go? (OFF-MIKE) these kinds of things?

CARCIERI: Well, as I said earlier, there's an investigation under way on all of those fronts right now, OK? There's an investigation as to what caused the fire exactly. And there's an investigation into all of those kinds of questions. And that is going on, the attorney general's office, the state police. It's a coordinated effort right now.


QUESTION: Can we speak to the attorney general and the officials from the state police? Can you bring them over to the mike?

CARCIERI: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: Sir, before you do that, you just said just now that all of the effort has been on identifying individuals. Can you talk to us about that aspect of the process and how difficult that has been?

CARCIERI: Well, it varies, Sean (ph). In some cases, there is identification on the individuals, OK? In some cases, there isn't or it's been destroyed. In some cases, as you would expect, the condition of the individuals is going to make it difficult. And it may be, in some cases, that we're going to rely on DNA or some other things. But every case is different. Some of the situations are just horrific.

QUESTION: But, Governor, earlier, you did say that -- emphatically, that this need not have happened, that pyrotechnics should not have taken place there last night. Do you still feel that way?

CARCIERI: Yes, I do. OK, that was different. I thought you asked how many people were there. I said I did not say that there were more -- I don't know how many people were there. We still don't know that. And that is going to be evolved as we interview in the investigation.


QUESTION: Pyrotechnics were not to have been permitted there. That was no -- that should not have taken place there last night?

CARCIERI: That's my understanding.


CARCIERI: All right, you got...


CARCIERI: Yes, let me...

QUESTION: Just to clarify there, Governor, are you saying that in your opinion there shouldn't be any mechanism by which pyrotechnics could even be allowed under any circumstances? Is that your opinion? What are you saying?


CARCIERI: I know that building. That's an old building. It's not a high ceiling building. OK? And so I would say to let off pyrotechnics inside that building, you were asking for trouble. OK? And my understanding is they were not permitted to do that, but that's different.

QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, where is the band? Are they being questioned? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PATRICK LYNCH, RHODE ISLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation is ongoing. Different members of the band have been spoken to. The investigation is in the -- is continuing. It was initiated from the outset. Law enforcement, remarkable effort in responding to this tragedy, this crisis, included commencing an investigation, and it continues at this time.

QUESTION: So where are they?

LYNCH: Where are they?

QUESTION: The band, yes?

LYNCH: They have been spoken to by the state police and other members of law enforcement. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Any person that we've become aware of, interviews are being conducted.



QUESTION: There are reports that they've done this before in other locations without permission. Is there verification of that yet?

LYNCH: I'm told she (ph) confirmed it. I'm dealing with a potential criminal investigation. And no disrespect to the press, that investigation will continue, and when it's an appropriate time, I'll make comments.


LYNCH: The Rhode Island general laws.


LYNCH: I'll not speculate on the possible criminal charges. We'll look at the investigation, make determinations in a coordinated effort, and in a most timely fashion make comment. I think as frustrating as it may be, we need to keep an eye on the ball, which is the pain and suffering that Rhode Islanders are going through right now. The investigation will continue. It will be thorough, and in as timely a fashion as possible I'll make comment as to the appropriate charges, if any, are to be made.

But for now this small community, this small community is in pain, and we have pulled together. Law enforcement has been remarkable. Nurses, doctors, patrons who visited there last night have responded. From an investigative standpoint, I'll make comment when appropriate. For now we need to as best we can offer solace to victims and families of victims in this state.


LYNCH: I will not confirm that.

QUESTION: Because there are two conflicting stories. The band said they got permission. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) exactly on who gave them permission. The owners say they didn't give permission. What are your thoughts on that?

LYNCH: With all of you assembled here, I'm sure there's conflicting opinions. I'm telling you that investigation is continuing and I'll make comment when appropriate.

QUESTION: Did anyone say what kind of pyrotechnics they were?

QUESTION: What is the range of charges that you would look at? I'm not asking you to speculate on what someone would be charged with. Can you give us a range of charges that you'd look at in a case like this?

LYNCH: In the Rhode Island general laws.


LYNCH: That certainly is a potential.

QUESTION: That's in there?

LYNCH: Correct. That is in the Rhode Island general laws. Beyond that, I won't comment nor will I speculate nor will I get..

QUESTION: Are there any other silent owners?

LYNCH: No comment.

CARCIERI: I think -- got to make clear. We are right now just trying to get -- recover all the persons we can from this site. That's the whole focus. The attorney general, along with the state police and other local law enforcement efforts are going forward with all those kinds of things.

We are not prepared today, right now, to share that with you. That's the point, OK? As this thing unfolds, the attorney general will make that clear.

Let me make one other point, because there was some confusion that I neglected. As far as we can confirm in all the calls to the hospitals, there have been no deaths at hospitals, OK? We have been calling all of them, and, so far, because I know there were some rumors that there had been a number of people that died at hospitals. We have not been able to confirm that. OK? Right now what we are getting is that that is not the case. The figures that I gave you are as they stand and we have had no fatalities right now.

QUESTION: Governor, what's turning out to be the deadliest aspect of this? Is it the smoke? Is it the trampling? Is it the building falling on people? What are you finding?

CARCIERI: I would say all of those things. When I talked to the rescue workers, the chief down there, as you well know, and I said earlier, there were some heroic efforts. The first responders probably saved as many as 100 lives by pulling people out of there, because it went up so rapidly. There have been groups that were found that obviously were trampled. There were others that were found that were obviously overcome with the smoke and others that the building collapsed on, whatever.

So all of those things, all of the horrible things you can imagine are what has occurred here.


QUESTION: Does anybody know what kind of pyrotechnics were involved in this?

CARCIERI: No, that's what ATF is going through now. OK? I mean, they'll go at that.

QUESTION: Can you say is the band free to go or are they still being talked to?

CARCIERI: No, I don't say -- no.

QUESTION: Is anyone in custody?

LYNCH: No comment.

QUESTION: Governor, you said at the very beginning of this briefing that 86 now and that the number is expected to go higher. Can you give us your reasoning on that and a word picture on why that is so?

CARCIERI: Only because, as I say, the workers in there have spotted bodies in some locations. They just can't get at them, Sean (ph). So how many are in that category I don't know, OK? I don't know whether it's five more, 10 more. I just don't know. But I know there are others.

QUESTION: Are they near the end?

CARCIERI: Well, I think they're making terrific progress. They really are. When I asked the chief, I think they're hoping by 6:00, 7:00 this evening they'll have the site completely evacuated, if you will, and right now one of the issues is the basement. It's badly flooded. We don't know if there are any persons that are in the -- that will have to be pumped out. So I think the hope is right now if it continues the way it's going by 6:00, 7:00 tonight we should know where we are.

PHILLIPS: Governor Don Carcieri there, the governor in Rhode Island, addressing reporters. A couple of things to bring you up to date on after this nightclub fire in Rhode Island. Right now, 86 people confirmed dead. Eighty-one people still in the hospital, and search and rescue teams still trying to get to bodies.

A lot of complication within the club. Flooding problems and certain damage that is hindering firefighters from getting in there and rescue crews from getting in there to bringing out more bodies.

The identification process also very difficult, according to the governor. And Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island attorney general coming forward, not commenting whether anybody was in custody for the cause of this explosion, or whether, indeed, there is a criminal investigation at hand.

ATF right now investigating the pyrotechnics inside that nightclub.


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