Washington, Feb. 21: America counted tragedy after tragedy at home as it announced its war readiness in the Gulf with a declaration by Donald Rumsfeld that “we don’t do numbers”.
A barge carrying unleaded gasoline exploded and caught fire at an oil storage terminal off New York’s Staten Island today, capping a night of trauma ignited by a blaze in a Rhode Island night club in which 65 people died. ( )
At least 200 people were in the Station nightclub for a rock band’s pyrotechnics display when the fire started. The carnage came just days after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago nightclub when they tried to escape pepper spray used to break up a fight and were crushed behind blocked doors.
The barge blast sent flames and huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky south of Manhattan, where residents have been jittery and police on high alert since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Two persons were reported missing.
Initial reports from the New York fire department and shipping sources said the barge was carrying propane or heating oil when it blew up at the Port Mobil terminal owned by Exxon Mobil Corp, but the company later said it contained unleaded gasoline.
The terminal is in an industrial area but people on Staten Island and nearby New Jersey towns felt a blast and could smell the fumes.
A federal law enforcement official said it was probably an industrial accident, but the FBI would not know for sure until authorities investigated the scene.
But undeterred by the serial mishaps at home, Washington pressed on with its drive for a war against Iraq by working on a new UN Security Council resolution. Turkey today signalled it was within reach of an urgently awaited deal with the US allowing American forces to deploy on Turkish soil for the possible attack on Iraq.
Defence secretary Rumsfeld told a television channel: “We are at a point where, if the President makes that decision (to attack), the department of defence is prepared and has the capabilities and the strategy to do that.”
Asked if the troops were ready to go to war now, Rumsfeld replied: “Yes.”
Defence officials say the US and Britain have amassed over 1,50,000 military personnel in the region along with dozens of warships and hundreds of aircraft. Rumsfeld’s refusal to discuss “numbers” came when he was asked about the total number of US troops in the Gulf.
“If military force becomes necessary to disarm Iraq, this nation, joined by others, will act decisively in a just cause, and we will prevail,” President George W. Bush said. “For the oppressed people of Iraq... the day of freedom is drawing near.”