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Deadly pier collapse prompts inspections

Investigators pulled wooden planks and plastic chairs from the Delaware River on Friday in a search for clues to why a pier collapsed, sending dozens of nightclub patrons into the water and killing three women.

Mayor John Street ordered an inspection of all piers on the river, many of which support nightclubs and are believed to be 100 years old. The former industrial area along the river is dotted with restaurants and other nightspots catering to a college-age crowd.

"Our concern at this point is really to make sure that when people come out here tonight to visit some of these other piers, that people are safe," fire Commissioner Harold Hairston said Friday.

On Thursday night, people at the open-air nightclub Heat said they had almost no time to react when the pier gave way under their feet. The 41 people tossed into the river desperately tried to reach the surface through a tangle of wooden planks and plastic furniture, and a canvas awning that had fallen over them.

"I heard a loud crash, and then all hell broke loose. I went straight down, then I was just trying to fight my way up," said bartender Joseph Capaci, 28, of Villanova.

Killed were DeAnn White, 25, of Philadelphia; Jean Ferraro, 27, of Cherry Hill, N.J.; and Monica Rodriguez, 21, also of Cherry Hill. News reports said they were at the club celebrating White's birthday, which would have been Saturday. All but nine of the 37 injured were treated at hospitals and released.

Stephanie Franklin-Suber, Street's chief of staff, said all but two of the 41 people they believe were dropped into the river had been accounted for. She said authorities don't know if the two simply haven't checked in with authorities.

One of the club's employees, Lawrence Price, said he had noticed a crack on the pier earlier in the day but was told to cover it with sheet metal.

"It is way too premature to speculate on a cause," said police Commissioner John Timoney.

Joe Martz, the city's managing director, said the owners, not the city, are responsible for inspections of the pier.

The Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for the Delaware River shipping channel, was helping with the cleanup and serving as technical consultant.

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