WEST WARWICK, R.I. (AP) – Survivors and relatives of the 100 people killed in one of the nation’s deadliest nightclub fires marked the fifth anniversary of the disaster on Sunday with a somber service at the fire site, where they received a first look at design plans for a proposed permanent memorial.

Hundreds of people huddled next to a makeshift memorial of crosses and photographs on the grounds of The Station nightclub, with some wearing shirts bearing their loved one’s picture and crying softly as the name of each person killed was read aloud.

“It is still so difficult to imagine that that much time has passed, since that night is so vivid in our hearts and minds,” Jessica Garvey, whose sister, Dina DeMaio, died in the fire, told the crowd, which included Gov. Don Carcieri and his wife, Sue.

The Feb. 20, 2003 fire began when the tour manager for the 1980s rock band Great White set off pyrotechnics at the start of a concert at The Station. Sparks ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling, engulfing the one-story building in flames and toxic smoke and trapping concertgoers inside.

Besides the 100 people killed, more than 200 were injured in the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. The band’s tour manager and the club owners reached plea deals two years ago on involuntary manslaughter charges.

“What happened here is something that changed so many lives in our state forever,” said Carcieri, who recalled visiting victims in the hospital after the fire and meeting with their families. “I’ll never forget it for as long as I live, and I know all of you are living with it in so many, many different ways.”

On Sunday, in a service of prayer and music, a dozen survivors and victims’ relatives took turns reading the names of the dead. Sarah Ballard, 23, read the last of the names, starting with her mother, Sarah Jane Telgarsky, who she described as “the best mom a girl could have.”

Rachel Henault, who was 12 when her mother, Jude, died, said she was deprived of a normal childhood, though she said she still feels her mother’s presence.

“February 20 stole many innocent lives, but they haven’t really left us,” she said. “They’re everywhere we are.”

After the fire, once the rubble was cleared, victims’ relatives began decorating the site with crosses and photographs of their loved ones. They hold their annual memorial service on an asphalt lot next to that makeshift memorial.

The Station Fire Memorial Foundation eventually commissioned proposals for a permanent memorial at the fire site.

The winning design, unveiled Sunday, proposes a memorial park, with a courtyard, a meeting house and memorial gardens honoring the victims.

A 100-string Aeolian harp, a musical instrument played by the wind, will be part of the memorial, creating soothing music and contributing to the “natural healing landscape,” said Stephen Greenleaf, a Rhode Island architect and one of the designers.

“Five years ago, a great tragedy happened right here on this cold and barren slab of asphalt,” said Thomas Viall, another of the designers. “Where will we stand five years from now? That was a central question Stephen and I attempted to answer through our design.”

Garvey, the memorial foundation president, acknowledged obstacles in creating the memorial.

The land itself is tied up in lawsuits stemming from the fire. The foundation is still working on a cost estimate for the project though it has so far raised $100,000 for the memorial.

“We are closer than ever to creating this permanent, lasting memorial, but much hard work has yet to be done,” Garvey said. “We are absolutely committed to seeing this project through.”

The service was held just weeks before Great White’s former tour manager, Daniel Biechele, is due to be released on parole from his four-year prison sentence. Biechele was sentenced in May 2006 after pleading guilty to lighting the pyrotechnics without the required permit. He’s scheduled to be freed in March.

Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian pleaded no contest in September 2006 to involuntary manslaughter charges for illegally installing the foam. Michael Derderian was sentenced to four years in prison and is due out on parole in 2009. His brother was spared jail time.

Several hundred survivors and victims’ relatives sued dozens of people and companies after the fire. They have reached tentative settlements totaling more than $70 million with several defendants, though no money has been distributed yet.

AP-ES-02-17-08 1808EST

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