Autopsies due in Point Pleasant Beach motel fire that killed 4

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. - March 22, 2014

But the Mariner's Cove Motor Inn became a second disaster scene early Friday when a fast-moving fire tore through it, killing four people, injuring eight others, and displacing several people who had already lost their homes in the October 2012 storm.

"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.

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.

Authorities said Keri Anderson, who was seriously burned as she awaited rescue in a shower stall with the water running, remained hospitalized Saturday in the burn unit of St. Barnabas Medical Center.

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.

Joseph Frystock, whose home in nearby Brick Township was flooded during the storm, said he woke up early to use the bathroom, and found the motel in flames. He ran outside and pounded on doors and windows, warning people to get out.

Frank Smith, another Sandy victim, was staying at Mariner's Cove after a stint in a temporary shelter in Seaside Heights. He lost most of his possessions and identification in the fire.

Giannuzzi moved three weeks ago from the second floor of Mariner's Cove to a unit on the ground floor. The ground-floor units had cement walls and generally fared better in the blaze than the wooden ones upstairs

"I couldn't get a WiFi signal on the second floor for my computer, so I moved downstairs," he said. "That might have made the difference between me living and dying."

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