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Death toll rising in second nightclub inferno in days.

Byline: Svea Herbst-Bayliss

The death toll has risen to at least 95 and may climb to more than 100 in a fire that swept through a Rhode Island nightclub after a rock band's pyrotechnics display, Gov Donald Carcieri said late last night.

'It would not surprise me to see a fatality number of over 100,' Carcieri said, adding that more than 160 people were injured in the blaze, including some critically.

'They are still pulling bodies out. This building went up fast - nobody had a chance.'

The fire was the second disaster to hit a US nightclub in a week and raised major safety concerns. On Monday, 21 people were crushed to death at a Chicago club after a chemical spray released on a dance floor started a stampede. Veteran heavy metal band Great White had just started playing at The Station nightclub in West Warwick when giant pyrotechnics on stage ignited the ceiling.

'The whole place got tons of black smoke. We were breathing black smoke,' said clubber Lisa Shea.

'I got knocked on the ground. People were standing on my back, my head. I was holding my head and I said, 'I'm going to die here'.'

Local officials said the death toll could rise further as firefighters continued to search the charred remains of the building for bodies. Many of those being treated in hospital were also in a critical condition.

'They were completely burned. They had pieces of flesh falling off them,' said Michelle Craine of West Warwick, who was waiting to hear about a friend who was missing. 'It was the worst thing I've ever seen.'

Brian Butler was filming the concert for a local TV station for a story about nightclub safety following the Chicago disaster.

His graphic video footage showed piles of people lying on top of each other, trying to push their way out.

Some of the crowd at first thought the fire was part of the show, he said.

Panic broke out when everyone realised what was happening.

'People were smashing out windows, people were pulling on people. Nobody cared about the bruises or the burns.

'They just wanted out of the building.'

The blaze broke out at about 11pm local time, in West Warwick, about 15 miles south-west of Providence, capital of Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US.

West Warwick Fire Chief Charlie Hall said the building had no sprinklers because its relatively small size did not require them.

He said the club had recently passed a fire inspection, but did not have a permit for pyrotechnics.

Most of the bodies were found near the front exit, some of them burned and others dead from smoke inhalation, he said. Some appeared to have been trampled in the rush to escape.

He said the club's fire exits were all working, but most people did not use them.

Jack Russell, Great White's lead singer, said he suddenly felt a wave of immense heat as he was midway through his first song.

'I see the foam's on fire. ... The next thing you know the whole place is in flames.'

He said he started dousing the fire with a water bottle but was unable to put it out.

'I just couldn't believe how fast it went up,' he said. The band's guitarist Ty Longley, was among the missing.

CAPTION(S):

Fire personnel inspect the remains of the nightclub The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island, where at least 75 died; Jack Russell, lead singer of Great White, buries his face in his hands outside the club
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 22, 2003
Words:593
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