OCEAN ISLE BEACH -- Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith called the fire one of the island's worst tragedies. As firefighters sorted through the debris, emotional residents watched in shock and disbelief. Students from South Carolina were spending a weekend at the beach for their fall break. One of the student's parents owned the house, and let his daughter stay there with friends. Neighbor George Smith said, "They were partying there yesterday. It looked like there were a bunch of college kids partying there all day, into the night." By morning the sounds of a raging fire woke the neighbors. "I heard sirens about 6:30, 7 in the morning, looked out the window -- I live across the street -- and the whole sky was lit up like it was an early sunrise." As word spread that a fire claimed the lives of seven college students emotions ran high. Neighbor Cathy Westmoreland said, "I'm visiting and it's the first thing I saw this morning on my first day here and it was just sad." By midday family members of victims arrived at the town hall. Flags outside were lowered to half-staff. Westmoreland said, "A lot of us have children that go on vacation and it's just a sad Sunday morning for us." Neighbor Linda Sing said, "This is the worst thing I've ever seen down here. We've had hurricanes but this is by far the worst thing I've ever seen at Ocean Isle." The mayor of Ocean Isle Beach said the homeowner's daughter survived the fire. All but one of the students in the house were from the University of South Carolina. We know they were members of the tri-delta sorority and sigma alpha epsilon fraternity. Students and faculty on campus reacted to the news. "We have mountain weekend coming up where we all go to the mountains and just hang out for the weekend but you just never know, you know? One day it could happen to you just hope and pray it doesn't." USC president Andrew Sorensen said, "I have referred throughout my presidency that this is the gamecock family, the gamecock nation. I feel that very deeply. I feel that to the core of my being."
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