- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

WEST WARWICK (AP) For days, they have lived with the video images of their relatives jammed in the doorway of a burning nightclub, many screaming in terror as they struggled in vain to break free.
Yesterday, for the first time, the parents, siblings and children of the 96 who couldn't escape were allowed to walk up to the charred rubble of the Station nightclub to pray and say goodbye.
They stepped off buses into the rain outside the club, where firefighters had left dozens of roses for them to hold or place at a makeshift memorial, already piled high with cards and flowers.
At least one person was overcome and taken to an ambulance.
"These families are going through such a tragedy, such an emotional odyssey right now, and their hearts are broken, and they still don't know in many cases whether their loved one has been positively ID'd," said Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, who met with the families several times in the days after a rock band's pyrotechnics turned the Station into an inferno.
Yesterday, he ordered a no-fly zone within five miles of the site to give the families privacy to mourn.
"The agony they've been going through for the last 48 hours almost has turned into what you'd expect, the kinds of questions: 'Why did this happen? Did it have to happen? What caused it to happen? Did some individuals cause it to happen?'" Mr. Carcieri said. "We're asking all the same questions."
The band was just getting into its first song Thursday night when sparks from the pyrotechnics ignited foam tiles in the ceiling and quickly spread flames over the crowd of more than 300. Fire officials said the building was engulfed in three minutes.
Little remains of the one-story, wooden nightclub today but ashes.
Against one partial wall lean bouquets of flowers, stuffed animals and American flags that police had gathered from mourners, who had been kept behind a chain-link fence several yards from the site. Amid the growing makeshift memorial are high school pictures, poems, even an unopened can of beer.
James Morris, 36, of Warwick, stood outside the fence where a steady stream of mourners stopped yesterday to pay their respects. He said he was supposed to attend the concert Thursday, but didn't feel like going out that night. Six of his friends went without him and haven't been heard from since.
"It's unbelievable," he said, hugging his two sons. "It's just awful. They were all young guys in their 20s, early 30s."
A memorial service was planned last night, described as "prayer unplugged," and mourners were encouraged to bring acoustic guitars to honor the victims.
Thirty-one of the 96 persons killed in the blaze had been identified by yesterday afternoon, Mr. Carcieri said. He said 80 survivors remained hospitalized, about two dozen of them in critical condition.
Three days after the fire, questions remained about whether the heavy metal group Great White had permission to set off the fireworks and whether anyone should face charges in the deadly blaze.
The club did not have a permit for the special effects. While the leader and an attorney for the band which returned to Los Angeles without guitarist Ty Longley, missing since the blaze said the group received permission from the club before setting off the special effects, the club's owners insisted they never approved pyrotechnics use.


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