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Survivors coping with losses after beach house fire

Survivors of Sunday's deadly beach house fire include the young woman who hosted the weekend getaway, a man who jumped three stories to escape, a man who lost his brother in the fire and a sophomore who could not save her roommate.

The deadly fire left surviving family members struggling with conflicting emotions -- relief their child survived and grief that others' did not.

"The thought of losing a child is just unimaginable to me," said Chip Auman, whose family owned the house and whose daughter survived. "As a father, my heart goes out to the families that have lost a loved one in this situation."

Auman met with the media Monday evening at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in Hartsville where his daughter, Katherine Auman, 18, was hospitalized with complications from smoke inhalation. She was in stable condition in intensive care, he said.

Auman said his family was "numb, shocked and confused."

"There are no words to describe what we've been going through."

The Auman family learned about the fire Sunday morning when their daughter called from Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

"Our lives changed forever. We have experienced a phone call no parent can imagine."

Katherine Auman is a pledge in the Delta Delta Delta sorority at USC.

Thirteen college students were inside the house at Ocean Isle Beach when the fire started. Most were affiliated with the Tri-Delt sorority and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and had gone to the beach for a weekend getaway.

The six survivors had escaped the flames by the time police arrived, said Daisy Ivey, Ocean Isle Beach town administrator.

The house, built on pilings, had two living floors, Ivey said. Five of the survivors were sleeping on the first floor, she said.

The only person on the top floor to survive was Tripp Wiley, a USC student from Greenville. He jumped out of a window and into the adjacent canal, Ocean Isle Beach Fire Chief Robert Yoho said. Rescue workers pulled him from the water, Ivey said.

Andrew Rhea of Florence survived. His younger brother, William Rhea, did not, said their sister, Anna Lee Rhea, who described the brothers as especially close.

"His brother just can't get over it," she said.

Terry Walden of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, said his daughter, Allison Walden, 19, died in the fire, but her college roommate, Fallon Sposato, survived.

Both were members of Delta Delta Delta sorority, according to the group's Web site.

Walden said he had spoken with Sposato and had learned more details.

Sposato said she was the first to go to bed around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Walden said. Sometime around 7 a.m., she awoke, hearing smoke alarms, but told Walden she believed it was smoke from the fire that woke her.

She said she had to be restrained from going back inside to get Allison, Walden said. But she was able to describe to police where she expected the victims to be located.

"When the police went in, they found it pretty much the way she described," Walden said, adding he believed carbon monoxide and smoke killed most of the victims, including his daughter. Walden said he sent dental records Monday to North Carolina to assist in his daughter's identification.

"They never woke up," he said.

Sposato could not be reached for comment, nor could other survivors.

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