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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Paul Mugler

Aired June 30, 2003 - 20:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're moving on to a story out of Chicago. Too many people in too small a space. That's how authorities are explaining the weekend porch collapse that killed a dozen people on Chicago's North Side. The three-story porch was located in back of an apartment building in Chicago's trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood. And it collapsed to the ground during a party. Investigators say they have found no evidence the porch was unsound, just overloaded with partygoers.
Paul Mugler survived the collapse and he joins us now. Paul, good of you to join us. I imagine it is probably difficult for you to try to relive what happened over the weekend, but as best you can, describe to us what you remember when things went so horribly wrong.

PAUL MUGLER, DECK COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: Right when it collapsed or...

ZAHN: Yes, just about the time it collapsed.

MUGLER: Exactly. OK. Well, I was standing, if you can see, right about -- on the second deck, about six feet to eight feet in front of the sliding glass door on the second deck. And right when the third deck collapsed, all you heard was a crack, crack, crack sound, and it was immediately on top of us. There was no way that we could get out of the way. It was just right on top of our heads, and right then we started falling.

And it was just -- everything went black, and just the sense of fear that was going through my head was a little unnerving. And you heard all this -- you didn't hear any screams when it actually happened, until everything slowed down. And everything ended up in this big pile all the way -- all around here. And I happened to be on top of the pile for some reason. And all you could hear were the screams of the people underneath you right when everything stopped moving. And all I could see were just hands of people trying to push out, and just the yelling.

And I happened to get out relatively quickly. I was able to grab on to something behind my head and pull out from whatever was covering me. And I grabbed on to a gutter and swung my legs over and jumped out and ran, and dialed 911. And when all the neighbors started coming here and pulling off debris off of people, that's when I got off of 911 and helped move the debris and moved it to a place where it wasn't -- they could get more people out.

ZAHN: You are such a lucky man when you describe that brief period of time where everything went dark and you felt this crush of wood coming down on you, and bodies. Was there a moment where you thought you were not going to survive?

MUGLER: It all went so fast, Paula, that it was -- it went through my mind, but it was more, like, there is so many things to process, that you -- it was one of many things that was going through my mind. I just remember seeing the wood. And I didn't see any bodies falling, just the wood. And I just remember, I could get crushed. I could get crushed. There was enough space that I could -- that I could maneuver out of it, that it was just lucky. That's all I can say, lucky.

ZAHN: Paul, at one point investigators believe some 80 people were standing at least on the upper level of the porch. Did you feel claustrophobic when you were standing on the porch?

MUGLER: No. The way that it is being described, at least in the newspapers, is that it seems like you would think that everybody was standing shoulder to shoulder and you wouldn't be able to move. But in essence, it wasn't like that at all. These were big porches, and people were just standing, conversing relatively comfortably. Yes, there were a lot of people, but it wasn't like people were just crammed in there and you couldn't move. You could get from one side of the porch to the other with relative ease. So it didn't seem like anything were unsafe. It never crossed my mind throughout the whole night that this could be something deadly like what happened.

ZAHN: Paul, we've all read a little about some of these bright young lives snuffed, cut so short. How do you move on from here, and those of you who are survived, who lost close friends and in some cases family members?

MUGLER: I don't know. I think everybody's going to go through different process with this. I don't even know where I'm at. I think I'm still in shock that I happened to be standing in the right place at the right time instead of some 10 feet in a different direction. And I think that's a little unnerving. I know other people that are, you know, in different stages of the grieving process and trying to understand what happened.

I guess it all seems too surreal for me that this actually happened to me. It seems like it happened to somebody else. And you hear people saying that all the time, but it still seems like a movie to me. And I don't know how we can -- how the process is going to be from here, but hopefully we'll all take the right path to be OK.

ZAHN: Well, Paul Mugler, we appreciate you sharing your story. I guess, as you just described, it felt like you cheated death, and I know it is going to be a long time before those of you who were there can reconcile with what happened to you. Again, thanks for being with us tonight. We really appreciate your time.

MUGLER: Thanks.

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