WEST WARWICK, R.I. (AP) -- At least 96 people were killed and nearly 200 more were injured Thursday night after a nightclub erupted in flames during a rock band's pyrotechnics display. The death toll rose as firefighters continued to search Friday night for remains and evidence in the charred shell of the single-story wood building.
Great White was rocking through its first song, ``Desert Moon,'' and the fans were cheering as fireworks sprayed the stage with sparks. They kept cheering even as flames shot toward The Station nightclub's ceiling. Within three minutes, many of them were dead.
Club officials said they had not given the band permission to use pyrotechnics, a claim echoed by at least three other venues where Great White played in the past month. The band disputed the accusations, and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said authorities were investigating.
Many concertgoers were caught off-guard as they slowly realized the fire wasn't part of the show. Many were badly burned and others were trampled in the rush to escape, in large part through a single door.
``I never knew a place could burn so fast,'' said Robin Petrarca, 44, who was roughed up in the scramble to escape. She said the smoke was so thick she couldn't see an exit just 5 feet away.
It was the deadliest U.S. nightclub fire since 165 people were killed at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky., in 1977. It also came less than a week after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago nightspot.
The capacity of The Station was 300, but the number of victims and survivors indicated more were inside. The death toll rose steadily Friday as firefighters picked through the smoking ruins of the single-story building.
``This building went up fast -- nobody had a chance,'' said Gov. Don Carcieri, who rushed back to the state from a trip to Florida.
Under the glare of floodlights, a dozen firefighters and other law enforcement officials used rakes to sift through the rubble Friday night as they searched for evidence and belongings of the victims. A corner of the building was still standing, along with the marquee, still advertising Great White's appearance.
Authorities warned it could take time to identify the victims. At hospitals around the region, anguished relatives pleaded for help in finding loved ones they feared were lost in the club.
Patricia Belanger stood trembling outside Rhode Island Hospital, clutching a photo of her daughter, Dina DeMaio, who was working at the club as a waitress to earn some extra money for herself and her 7-year-old son.
Belanger said she had not been able to find her daughter and was unable to tell her grandson about his mother's possible death.
``He knows his mother didn't come back,'' she said.
The fire was apparently touched off by pyrotechnics moments after the '80s hard-rock band kicked off its show. A TV cameraman doing a story on nightclub safety recorded the unfolding disaster, beginning with the fireworks, followed seconds later by bright orange flames climbing curtains and soundproofing behind the stage. In moments, the stage was enveloped in a bright yellow haze; among those missing late Friday was guitarist Ty Longley.