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Fourth Body Found In Wreckage Of Miami Beach Hotel

April 8, 1990

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A fourth body was found Saturday as authorities continued a top-to-bottom search of the wreckage of a hotel that was swept by fire as residents slept.

Ten tenants were still unaccounted-for in the fire that hit the Fontana Hotel before dawn Friday.

″We believe there are more victims inside,″ said police Capt. Rocco DeLeo. ″What we are doing is getting details from relatives of people who we believe are missing and getting the physical characteristics of these persons.″

One hundred and one of the 102 rooms were rented out, but no one is sure exactly how many people were in the hotel at the time of the fire, said Olimpia Mihai, one of the Fontana’s owner-managers. Estimates of the number of inhabitants has ranged up to 150; the registration records were burned in the fire.

As federal, state and city teams launched a top-to-bottom search, a crane was brought in to help pick apart the gutted ruins of the hotel.

Investigators broke off their search at sundown Saturday and planned to return Sunday morning with specially trained dogs to search for bodies, said Miami Beach police Detective Jim Hyde.

With the cause still a mystery, U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson issued a search warrant at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to preserve any evidence that might be needed later in court. The bureau conducts arson investigations.

Mayor Alex Daoud said fire officials told him Friday that arson was strongly suspected, but Fire Chief Branaird Dorris said tenants had mentioned a water leak, which raised the possibility of an electrical short.

″Whenever you have a serious loss of life, and a substantial loss of property damage and money, a warrant is routine,″ Hyde said Saturday.

U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, who donned a hard hat to inspect the three- story hotel, said the purpose of the warrant was to legally preserve any possible evidence.

He played down the significance of his visit, saying: ″You shouldn’t judge the importance of any particular investigation by what officials are there.″

Asked when the death toll would be known, Robert Creighton, ATF agent in charge of the Florida office, said: ″We may have that in two days. It all depends on what we find.″

Names of 14 residents who had not been seen since the fire were provided by surviving tenants.

The four bodies found so far - two women, a man and a fourth person whose sex wasn’t immediately determined - were tentatively assumed to be among the 14 missing, Hyde said.

″We’re bringing our total of unaccounted-for people to ten,″ Hyde said. ″Again, this is an approximate ‘guesstimate’ based on information we were given by residents of the hotel.″

Twenty-one hotel residents were taken to three area hospitals Friday, and five remained hospitalized in good condition Saturday.

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