NEW YORK — A Jersey Shore motel gutted in a deadly blaze Friday had been a haven for people displaced by Superstorm Sandy, and the fire was the second major setback in less than a year to a region still struggling to recover from the 2012 storm.
At least four people were killed in the early morning fire at Mariner's Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. All four victims were men, but their identities were not immediately released. The fourth victim was found as rescue workers combed through the wreckage Friday afternoon.
An official from the Ocean County prosecutor's office said all of the motel's remaining occupants had been accounted for. Officials earlier had said they were trying to locate 10 people.
Survivors told harrowing tales of escape.
"The fire was at my door. I decided there was only one way out," said Pete Kuch, who jumped from his second-floor room but was uninjured. "There was no other choice."
One woman was pulled by firefighters from the window of her second-floor room after taking shelter fully clothed under her running shower. Firefighters hoisted a ladder to her window and pulled the woman out, carrying her to the ground past a sign advertising the motel's $49 special rate.
"She saved her own life being in the shower, water running, and everything just came together right for her," Point Pleasant Beach Fire Chief A.J. Fox said at a news briefing.
Matt Frystock, who was staying on the ground floor in a room with his father, said they fled through the flames to safety. "There was one lady screaming that her husband was disabled and was trapped inside," Frystock later told reporters. "It was utter chaos."
There were about 40 people staying in the motel, which had 25 units. Calls to 911 started pouring in shortly after 5:30 a.m. The fire burned so quickly through the wooden structure, fueled in part by high winds, that the motel was engulfed by the time firefighters reached the scene.
Fox said firefighters could not access the top floor. "We did try numerous rescues through windows, looking through windows, trying to find victims, but the fire was just blowing right out the windows," he said, noting that the only rescue they were able to make from the second floor was of the woman who stayed in her shower.
The motel's roof collapsed, hampering efforts to search for additional victims. The fire was brought under control by 7 a.m., but television images showed firefighters continuing to pour water into the structure, located about two blocks from the beach.
Eight people suffered injuries, including smoke inhalation and burns ranging from minor to severe. Two people were treated and released.
According to the motel website, it opened in 1985. Locals said that after Sandy hammered the Jersey Shore in November 2012, destroying or damaging thousands of homes, the motel's owner, Raj Patel, opened its second floor to people in need of shelter and let many stay for free.
The Star-Ledger reported that a few people left homeless by Sandy were still living in the motel when the fire hit.
Point Pleasant Beach is about 65 miles south of New York City and is a popular summer destination. It is less than 20 miles up the coast from Seaside Park, N.J., another shore community whose boardwalk was badly damaged in a roaring fire last September.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times