SOUTHGATE, KY. -- A fire swept out of control through a packed night club in this Northern Kentucky community late Saturday night. Over 100 persons were believed killed in the fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
"I just came out of the Cabaret Room. We have over 100 dead that we know of," said South-gate Fire Chief David Riesenberg. "There are still bodies in there that we can't get to ... I saw a lot of feet and a lot of heads."
Riesenberg said more persons were trapped inside the building in this Kentucky community across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
Screams could be heard from people trapped inside the two-story supper club, one of the largest night clubs in the Midwest.
The fire chief said the blaze was out of control.
Singer John Davidson, a frequent guest host on television's "Tonight" show, was about to go on stage before a near-capacity crowd of 5,000 when the fire broke out. He was reported safe.
One witness counted 15 bodies at the south door of the building where a priest was giving the last rites.
Larry Manfield of Ashland, Ky., a former fire chief at South Point, Ohio, said he was with a group of 80 persons in the Cabaret Room.
"I went around the whole building, looking for members of our group and I only saw a couple. I saw two or three among the bodies. We had just got out of the door when a gust of fire broke out. People were running."
Mrs. Richard Rust and Madonna Braun, doctors' wives, said they were with a party of 30 northern Kentucky doctors in the Viennese Room.
One patron said a busboy broke up the act of comedians Teter & McDonald and told people there was "a small fire in the kitchen" and for everyone to move out quickly.
"The bus boys were wonderful," the woman said. "I've never seen anything like it."
Reports from fire officials rushed to the Beverly Hills were still sketchy, but as many as eight departments have been rushed to the club which had 21 private rooms and a main ballroom.
St. Luke's and St. Elizabeth's Hospitals in Cincinnati were put on emergency alert and calling in off-duty doctors.
"We have sent everything we've got to the scene," said a spokesman for the Campbell County, Ky., Fire Department.
Ken Rankle, a service station attendant at the Ft. Thomas Exxon station, three blocks from the supper club on Alexandria Pike said, "some of the people from the club, who stopped by the station to catch a cab, said they thought the fire started in the kitchen or in the dining room. They were evacuating people in pickup trucks from the club."
The fire broke out about 9 p.m.
Reporters at the scene had to leave their cars and run nearly three miles because of massive traffic snarls as hundreds of firefighters and ambulances poured into the area.
The club, one of northern Kentucky's prominent gambling casinos before a reform movement drove out the industry in the early 1960s, burned down in 1970, but there were no casualties in that fire.
Following its reopening, the club maintained steady attendance by bringing in name acts such as Pearl Bailey.
One of the worst night club fires in history, at the Cocoanut Grove in Boston, killed 491 persons on Nov. 28, 1942.
"Everything was under control until the smoke broke out," said Ernie Doctor, 50, of Columbus, Ohio. His wife, Rose, said people began screaming and running for the doors when they spotted the flames.
The fire burned through the Empire Room, where Davidson was to appear. Flames also blazed through adjoining dining rooms.
Black smoke poured in as the doors were opened and the panic began, witnesses said.
Bartender Gil Broadbeck said, "Suddenly the smoke hit and people began jumping over the bar.