Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. Motel Fire Kills 4; Was Home to Superstorm Sandy Survivors

By Sean Breslin
Published: March 23, 2014

Four people were killed early Friday morning when a large fire rushed over the Mariner's Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., where scores of Superstorm Sandy survivors took refuge after losing their homes to the storm.

Eight others were injured when the two-story motel was destroyed by the blaze, according to an Asbury Park Press report. Seven of those injuries came when people jumped from the second floor to escape the fire which quickly spread through the building, aided by wind gusts, the report also said.

The names of the dead have not yet been released, and the cause of the fire is not yet known.

(MORE: Take a Look Back at Superstorm Sandy's Impact)

According to NJ.com, the motel suffered significant damage when Superstorm Sandy battered the coast in Oct. 2012 and has since hosted families displaced by the storm. For the Superstorm Sandy survivors, the disaster was yet another blow.

"A good number of us were Sandy victims," said James Giannuzzi, who had been staying at the motel because his apartment a few blocks away in Point Pleasant Beach was damaged by the storm. He estimated that about half of the 40 people staying at the motel when the fire broke out were either displaced Sandy victims, or laborers drawn to the area by work opportunities created by the region's need to rebuild.

"I lost everything I had, for a second time," said Giannuzzi, who was visibly shaking as he stood outside the burned motel on Saturday. "I got out with my cellphone and charger and my wallet. I lost my computer and quite a few other things of value. But there are four people who died. We're the lucky ones."

As he spoke, investigators went about the grim task of raking through cinders in second-floor apartments of the 25-unit complex, and draining the motel's outdoor swimming pool, whose plastic light globes melted in the intense heat from the fire 50 feet away.

Several other Sandy victims recalled narrowly escaping the fire. They balanced the need to start over a second time with gratitude that their lives had been spared.

Autopsies were scheduled for the four victims on Saturday, said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

At the fire scene, Point Pleasant Beach police officer Stephen Pappalardo placed a bouquet of flowers that a passerby had handed him on the ground near the charred motel as arson investigators continued their work.

The fire broke out around 5:30 a.m. Friday and swept across the motel, whose second floor was made of wood. Strong westerly winds fanned the flames and quickly engulfed the building.

“It went up like a Christmas tree,” Point Pleasant Beach resident Tom Vogel told the Asbury Park Press.

Joe Frystock is one of the Sandy survivors who resided at the motel, and he told the Associated Press he woke up to use the bathroom when a sound similar to gunfire went off nearby.

(MORE: Before-and-After Photos of Areas Hit By Superstorm Sandy, One Year Later)

"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."

At the time of the fire, weather conditions were clear in Point Pleasant Beach, but winds gusted as high as 20 mph, according to weather.com meteorologist Chrissy Warrilow.

Below are some images and comments from those who witnessed the tragic scene Friday morning.


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