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Published: Friday, 3/21/2014 - Updated: 9 months ago

Official: At least 3 die in N.J. shore motel fire

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Firefighters investigate an early morning fire at the Mariner's Cove Hotel in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. today. At least three people were killed at the hotel whose residents included Superstorm Sandy victims whose homes were destroyed in the hurricane. Firefighters investigate an early morning fire at the Mariner's Cove Hotel in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. today. At least three people were killed at the hotel whose residents included Superstorm Sandy victims whose homes were destroyed in the hurricane.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J.  — An early morning fire killed three people today at a Jersey shore motel whose residents included Superstorm Sandy victims who were staying there because their homes remain uninhabitable nearly a year and a half after the storm, officials said.

Ten people who had been staying at the Mariner’s Cove Motor Inn were unaccounted for, but officials weren’t ruling out the possibility that they had escaped before the two-story wooden building two blocks from the beach was engulfed in flames. Eight people were injured, three of them critically in the blaze that broke out around 5:30 a.m. in this popular summer resort town.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said investigators interviewed motel management, and determined about 40 people were staying there when the fire broke out. The motel’s office was destroyed and many records were lost, he said, making an accurate accounting difficult.

Coronato said authorities hope the missing hotel occupants had simply gone elsewhere to stay with relatives, or to another motel, and asked them to check in with police.

“We are trying to make sure they are safe and unharmed,” he said.

Survivors described a chaotic scene of flames, smoke and screaming, with at least one person leaping from a second-floor window.

Peter Kuch said he smelled smoke and opened his door to find a lounge area engulfed in flames. He dialed 911 to seek help, and by the time the call was completed, the flames were at his door and licking at the windows of his second-floor unit.

He decided to jump.

“I had to, there was no other way out,” he said. “My window was only open an inch and flames were already starting to come through it. There just was no other choice.”

He suffered a sprained ankle but said he was otherwise all right.

Joe Frystock was one of the Sandy victims who was staying at the motel, which like many others in this resort, relies on people seeking low-cost rentals during the slow winter season. His home in nearby Brick Township took on 6 feet of water in the storm, and the motel was the latest in a series of temporary homes for him.

Frystock, who is diabetic, said he frequently has to use the bathroom at night. He woke up to popping sounds, which he initially thought was gunfire.

“It was the sound of timbers burning upstairs,” he said. “I looked out and saw that orange glow, and there was no mistaking what it was. People were yelling: ‘Help me! Help me!’ There was lots of screaming. A woman in the unit next to me, they pulled her from a bathtub, but I don’t know how anyone could have survived those flames. The entire second floor was engulfed, from one end to another.”

That woman, who had sought shower in a shower and kept the water running while waiting to be rescued, was pulled from the bathroom by Firefighter Mike Ryan, who handed her out a window to Firefighter Justin Leach, who carried her down a ladder to safety. The woman was taken to the burn unit of St. Barnabas Medical Center, a hospital about an hour north that specializes in treating severe burns, which Coronato said she had suffered.

Denise Dougherty, the motel’s housekeeper, said she was awakened by screams.

“There were people yelling, ‘Help me! Help me!’ and other people yelling, ‘Jump! Jump!’ It was terrible.”

Shawn Wardell said a strong wind was fanning the flames across the second floor of the motel, where he had been staying with his cousin and grandparents.

“We got my grandfather out ‘cause he’s disabled, and by that time the whole second floor was just engulfed in flames,” he said. “People were yelling and screaming.”

Investigators were looking into what caused the fire.

Residents gave conflicting accounts of whether they heard smoke detectors or fire alarms sounding. Some said they heard nothing, while others said a fire alarm was blaring as the flames were sweeping eastward across the top of the building.

Authorities did not immediately identify the victims. Coronato said all three of the dead were males.

The Ocean County Sheriff’s Department said one of the injured included one of its detectives, who suffered a severe leg injury, including broken bones, at the fire scene.



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