POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. – A fire early Friday destroyed a Jersey shore motel that was housing people displaced by Superstorm Sandy, killing four people, injuring eight others and leaving 10 unaccounted for, authorities said.
Officials weren’t ruling out the possibility that the 10 had escaped before the fire engulfed the Mariner’s Cove Motor Inn in this popular summer resort town about 5:30 a.m. The wooden building was overwhelmed by flames by the time firefighters arrived, and at least one person leaped from a second-floor window to escape. Three people were critically injured.
Investigators interviewed motel management, and determined about 40 people were staying there when the fire broke out, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said.
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.
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.
Denise Dougherty, the motel’s housekeeper, 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 are unclear on the cause of the blaze.