POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Four people were killed in an early morning fire Friday at a Jersey Shore motel where some victims of Superstorm Sandy had been staying.
Eight others were also hurt in the blaze, which broke out around 5:30 a.m. at the 25-unit Mariner’s Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach. The two-story wood structure was engulfed by flames when firefighters arrived.
“I woke up to a lady screaming at 5:30 in the morning. I thought it was a domestic. I opened up the blackout shades,” motel guest Lloyd Barker told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.
“It was just everywhere, you couldn’t see anything, the smoke was everywhere. I went to my grandfather’s room right next door to us and the flames were coming down in our face,” said Crystal Wardell.
Officials said earlier that 10 people were unaccounted for but they’ve all since been located.
Fire companies ran hoses to the nearby inlet as they struggled to put enough water on the fire.
PHOTOS: New Jersey Motel Fire
“Responding units quickly were able to put the fire out and get it under control, but it had spread very quickly causing an extreme amount of damage,” Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Al Della Fave told 1010 WINS.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene of flames, smoke and screaming, with several people leaping from second-floor windows to save themselves.
The building was completely gutted by the blaze and officials said the motel’s roof collapsed.
“I’ve never seen a fire so massive, the flames were like 30, 40 feet above the top of the second story,” said Richard Bilotti, son of the owner of Surfside Motel, which is down the road from Mariner’s Cove.
The beach is just two blocks from the scene of the fire at Mariner’s Cove Motel. Investigators believe a steady breeze coming off the shore helped fan the flames.
“You can always replace the bricks, the mortar, the wood. But you can’t replace a human being. It’s a tough one. It is a tough one,” Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Vincent Barella said.
Peter Kuch said he smelled smoke and opened his door to find a lounge area engulfed in flames. He dialed 911 but by the time the call was completed, the flames were at his door and licking at the windows of his second-floor unit.
He said 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.”
Joe Frystock was one of the Sandy victims who was staying at the motel. 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.
He woke up to popping sounds, which he said 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.”
One desperate woman climbed into a shower stall, turned on the water and banged on a window for help.
“Firefighter Mike Ryan went through the window, got her outside the window to another Point Pleasant Beach firefighter, Justin Leach, who brought her down the ladder,” Fire Chief AJ Fox said.
That woman suffered serious burns, Aiello reported.
Frystock said he and some other residents pounded on doors and windows of first-floor occupants yelling for them to get out.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said the search and recovery phase of the investigation would continue until officials are certain they’ve accounted for the approximately 40 people who were registered at the motel.
“We’re hoping that, when a fire occurs like this and people do leave the motel, a lot of times they go to loved ones or to other facilities,” he said. “But we believe at this time that we’re trying to locate 10 people to make sure they’re safe and unharmed.”
Many occupants said they didn’t hear any smoke or fire alarms.
Coronato said investigators will look into that as they determine the cause and origin of the fire.
Friday morning’s fire was another dose of bad luck for the Wardell family. They have been living at the motel after their rental home was destroyed by Sandy.
Their remaining possessions were destroyed in the fire.
“We couldn’t grab anything, the flames were too – right there in our face,” Angel Wardell told Aiello. “So we couldn’t grab anything.”
“It’s definitely a blow, but obviously we’re here for a reason because we’re still alive,” Crystal Wardell said.
Coronato said at least three victims who died were male, but their identifies have not yet been released.
Several of the injured were hospitalized with serious injuries and critical burns. An Ocean County sheriff’s officer broke several bones when he fell at the scene.
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