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Nine killed in Texas A&M bonfire collapse

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Nov. 18 -- A 40-foot-high pyramid of logs under construction for a campus pep rally and bonfire collapsed Thursday at Texas A&M University, killing at least nine students and injuring 28 more.

Lane Stephenson, a university spokesman, confirmed that nine bodies had been removed from the twisted pile of logs since the 2:30 a.m. CST mishap but rescue crews were still looking for possible survivors in the rubble.

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A memorial service was planned late Thursday for students, families and friends of the university which had carried on the bonfire tradition for 90 years, canceling it only after President Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

Dr. Ray Bowen, Texas A&M president, said this year's bonfire would also be cancelled because of the tragedy. He said university officials will determine whether the spirited tradition continues on the Aggie campus.

Heavy equipment carefully removed logs one at a time throughout the day to get at areas where motion detectors indicated there might be survivors.

The log structure fell over as a crew of about 50 to 70 students worked on the project. They often worked 24 hours a day to complete the bonfire before the rally, which was scheduled for next week.

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Bowen said 28 students were taken to hospitals. Most were treated and released, but he said three remained in critical condition.

Gov. George W. Bush joined Texas A&M officials, alumni and others in expressing sadness over the tragedy.

$?'It's sad. It's tough,' Bush said during a CNN interview, wiping a tear from his face.$?'I'm a little emotional about it because of my attachment to Texas A&M. My heart goes out to the parents.'

Stephenson said students working on the stack follow rigid safety rules.

$?'It is known to be a hazardous situation, and all students have to go through a rigorous safety training program,' he said.$?'Something went fatally wrong, tragically wrong, this time.'

The pep rally and bonfire, which was scheduled for next Thursday, precedes the Aggies' annual football game with rival Texas.

Student Caleb Hill, who suffered minor injuries, said he believed the tradition should continue.

$?'This is a tragedy that no one could imagine. This has never happened before. This is a strong tradition that unites Aggies young and old,' he said.

Texas A&M released the names of four of the dead: Christopher Breen, of Austin, Texas; Jerry Self, a sophomore from Arlington, Texas; Jeremy Frampton, a senior from Turlock, Calif., and Bryan McClain, a freshman from San Antonio.

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The bonfire had been under construction since Nov. 6. The completed stack of logs, 55 feet tall, is said to create the largest bonfire in the world. About 6,000 to 8,000 logs are wired together by the students.

The bonfire collapsed in 1994, but no one was injured in that mishap.

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