4 Dead, 8 Hurt in Motel Fire at The Jersey Shore: Officials

The medical examiner will conduct autopsies on Saturday on four people who were killed in a fire at a Jersey Shore motel where some Superstorm Sandy victims were staying because their homes remain uninhabitable nearly 18 months after the storm.

Initially authorities reported the blaze that broke out around 5:30 a.m. on Friday at the Mariner's Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach killed three adult men. But investigators discovered a fourth body in the debris in the afternoon.

The names of the four deceased men have not yet been released as officials work to identify the victims and notify their families.

Eight others were injured in the fire. On Saturday, officials announced that the search for additional victims was over and everyone was accounted for.

"There is a possibility they may have went with loved ones," said Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato, who asks anyone with information on people staying at the hotel to contact authorities.

The blaze destroyed the motel's office, causing most of its records to be lost and making it more difficult to determine who may be missing, said Al Della Fave, Ocean County Prosecutor's Office spokesman.

Volunteer firefighters from at least eight companies responded to the scene to find a female resident clamoring for help from a 2nd story window.

"There was a female victim inside of a shower," said Point Pleasant Beach Fire Chief A.J. Fox.  While the woman waited for rescuers to arrive, she remained low in the tub with the water running, he said.

"She helped save her own life," added Fox, who says two men from the Point Pleasant Beach Fire Department - helped the victim escape through a window.

Survivors described a chaotic scene of flames, smoke and screaming, with several people leaping from second-floor windows to save themselves.

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.
He decided to jump.

"I had to, there was no other way out,'' Kuch 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 low, 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."
Frystock said he and some other residents pounded on doors and windows of first-floor occupants yelling for them to get out.
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."

The 25-unit motel, which can hold up to 100 people, had about 40 guests staying there overnight Thursday, Coronato said.

Four of those injured were taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Two have been treated and released, while a third victim, a female, was admitted to the smoke inhalation unit. The fourth, a female, was transferred to the Burn Center at Saint Barnabas with serious burns.

Two others were transported to Brick Hospital and another was transported to Meridian Urgent Care Center in Neptune, N.J.

A first responder suffered a broken ankle during the rescue and was transported to the Jersey Shore University Medical Center for treatment.

Crews got the fire under control just after 7 a.m. The cause remains under investigation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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