Four men die in fire at N.J. shore motel


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POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. -- A fire early Friday destroyed a New Jersey shore motel housing people displaced by Superstorm Sandy, killing four people and injuring eight, authorities said.

The blaze erupted at the wooden Mariner's Cove Motor Inn in this popular summer resort town around 5:30 a.m., and flames were shooting out the building by the time firefighters arrived. At least one person leaped from a second-floor window to escape. Three people were injured critically. Other injuries included broken bones.

Discovery of a fourth victim was announced Friday afternoon just before firefighters removed the body on a stretcher. Authorities said all remaining occupants had been accounted for after hours of visiting hospitals, motels and other locations to track down other survivors. The victims were identified as male adults, but the prosecutor's office said no positive identifications had been made. The blaze's cause was unknown.

Investigators determined that about 40 people were staying there when the fire broke out, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said. He said the motel's office was destroyed, and many records were lost, making an accurate accounting difficult.

Volunteer and county social service agencies placed surviving motel residents in other rental units in town.

After the bodies were slid on stretchers down ladders to the ground, investigators brought out dogs specially trained to react to the presence of gasoline or other petroleum products that might have been used to start or accelerate a fire. The dogs sniffed at charred items and building debris at the curb and alongside the motel's outdoor swimming pool, but showed no obvious reaction to anything.

Task Force One, New Jersey's elite urban search-and-rescue team that has responded to disaster scenes around the world, also joined the investigation, which was expected to take days.

The blaze was the second major fire at the Jersey shore in seven months, following a September blaze that destroyed about a third of the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. The boardwalk had just been rebuilt after Sandy. It is now being rebuilt again.

Survivors of Friday's motel fire described a chaotic scene of flames, smoke and screaming.

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 staying at the motel that, 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 during the October 2012 storm, and the motel was the latest in a series of temporary homes for him. "I lost everything -- again -- but I'm alive," said Mr. Frystock, a diabetic. "I only got out with my insulin kit, but this is what keeps me alive, so I guess I'm lucky."


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