Deadly RI fire remembered; memorial plans advance

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2013 at 7:25 am •  Published: February 18, 2013
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WEST WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — Ten years after a deadly nightclub fire, some survivors and relatives of the 100 who died in the blaze remember it with quiet pain.

Huddled together in bitter cold, they brought flowers Sunday and paid their respects at handmade crosses that dot the site of the 2003 fire for each person who died. Some cried and spoke of missing their loved ones and the difficulty of moving past such trauma.

"It's just very tough," said Walter Castle Jr., 39, a survivor who suffered third-degree burns in his lungs, throat and bronchial tubes.

The anniversary of the blaze is Wednesday. The fire broke out when pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White ignited flammable packing foam that had been installed in the club as soundproofing.

Castle said he lost many friends and was in counseling until 2009. Recently, as the 10th anniversary approached, he began having terrible nightmares and had to go back into counseling.

"People that weren't here really don't understand why we can't let this stuff go. I was 30 seconds away from dying," he said.

Last month, a fire at a nightclub in Brazil killed more than 230 people under circumstances that were eerily similar: A band's pyrotechnic display set fire to soundproofing foam.

Among those who spoke Sunday was former Gov. Don Carcieri, who took office the month before the fire and still gets choked up when speaking about it. He remembered the days families waited at a hotel for word that their loved ones' remains had been identified, and the anger everyone felt, asking how the tragedy could have happened. But he also remembered how people in Rhode Island, a state with a population of just 1 million, pulled together to help each other.

"At a time of our state's worst tragedy, in some sense, it was our people's finest hour," he said.

Angela Bogart, who was 19 when her mother, Jude Henault, was killed in the fire, said she has come to know and understand her mother more in the decade since she died, especially since she has become a mother herself.