Rhode Island township braces itself as more dead identified

96 lives were lost but 'everybody is going to know someone who was in there'
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The Independent US

The list of the dead is being put together slowly, the names being added in ones and twos, people known to have been in the club but who did not escape the fast-spreading flames. Nine people had been identified so far and as the list grew, so did the sense of foreboding.

The list of the dead is being put together slowly, the names being added in ones and twos, people known to have been in the club but who did not escape the fast-spreading flames. Nine people had been identified so far and as the list grew, so did the sense of foreboding.

"I know one person who died in there – a man I used to work with," said Gary Smith, 49, who was collecting his breakfast coffee in yesterday morning's icy drizzle from a shop a hundred yards from the club which turned into a fireball that killed 96 people. "This is a small state, and just about everybody is going to know someone who was in there. If you don't, then you are new to the area or else you are too young."

This is the reality facing the people of this blue-collar township in Rhode Island, America's smallest, least populous state: that even those who were nowhere near the scruffy Station rock club on Thursday night or who had never even been there in their lives are unlikely to escape unscathed from this disaster. Everyone expects they will know someone who perished.

The state's Governor, Don Carcieri, summed it up: "We will find at the end of the day that there are few people who aren't personally touched by this." You can sense the anxiety, even as people try and get on with their lives.

"I am dreading looking at that list," said Cindy Holly, 30, who was having a drink with friends on Friday night in the Cornerstone Pub, a mile from the scene of the fire. "As of yet, I don't know anyone who died, but I fear I will. All day I have been thinking about seeing that list. It's so scary. I had been thinking about going to that club last night. I thought about it."

Adding to people's concern is the fact that the formal identification of those who died, when unlicensed pyrotechnics used by the Eighties rock band Great White started a blaze that spread through the wood-built Station club, is going to be a lengthy process.

Officials say no more than 15 of the 96 dead will be identified visually. The remainder were so badly burnt that dental records, finger-prints and even DNA would be needed. "I was told 30 seconds," said Mr Carcieri, in a reference to the amount of time be believed people had to get out of the building if they were to survive.

The families of those officially listed as "missing" have been gathering in a local hotel where counsellors, religious and secular, have been trying to help them. Officials realise that most of them simply want to know whether or not their relatives are among the dead. Most already know the truth, whether they have been officially informed or not.

"This is my daughter," Patricia Belanger had wept on Friday morning, as she stood outside the Hasbro Children's hospital, waving a photograph of a young woman. "She was a waitress there. It was her birthday yesterday. We've called all over." Amid the grief and shock is a growing sense of anger – anger that so many people should have died in this pathetic, senseless way, which would have smacked of Spinal Tap farce were the reality not so desperate.

How could the band have let off pyrotechnics in such a small environment, people have asked. Why was there not a fire extinguisher on hand, rather than the band's lead singer having to try and douse the flames with a bottle of water? Why was the low-ceilinged club so crowded? Why did people not realise the flames were not part of the act?

Just who will he held legally responsible for the deaths is the matter of ongoing state and federal investigations. The club's owners, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, said they were never informed of the band's plan to use fireworks, while the band said it received verbal permission. "Rock and roll is meant to be fun, not deadly," said the lead singer, Jack Russell, whose guitarist is among the dead.

Officials say the investigation will take weeks to complete, longer than the identification of the dead. In the meantime the people of Rhode Island try to get on with things, desperate for information but equally fearful of receiving it. The state's Attorney General, Patrick Lynch, said: "Everyone has heard of the notion of six degrees of separation. Well, in Rhode Island it's a matter of one-and-a-half degrees."

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