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Two Die in Blaze at High-Rise Apartment House in Miami Beach

May 24, 1996

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A man hanging by his fingers from a 10th-floor window fell to his death early Thursday in a fire that killed his roommate and injured more than 80 others at a high-rise apartment building.

``It was just a horrible experience _ seeing two people hanging and right in front of your eyes someone falls to his death,″ said one witness, a woman who would not give her name.

The fire broke out around dawn at the 15-story Morton Towers. The cause was under investigation.

Paola Ried was asleep on the 11th floor when she was awakened by the alarm. She saw the man clinging to a window as heavy smoke billowed out. He was apparently trying to reach a balcony about 12 feet away.

``He was, like, climbing out. He was trying to get over and there was nowhere to grab,″ she said.

A second man hanging from the window, 43-year-old Ralph Medina, was rescued by firefighters and was in stable condition. Firefighters also brought out the apartment’s third occupant, who later died at a hospital.

The fire started in an apartment across the hall from the one occupied by the three men. Police Sgt. Howard Zeifman said the men apparently had made a fatal mistake: opening their door, which let in the flames.

The identities of the dead weren’t immediately released.

Firefighters were stymied by double- and triple-parked cars, common in the crowded South Beach neighborhood, Zeifman said. The vehicles may have slowed response time by a minute, he said.

``By the time the fire department had set up, he had fallen to his death,″ Zeifman said.

Fourteen people, including two firefighters, were taken to hospitals, and police said 68 others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Built in 1960, Morton Towers is not required to have sprinklers because of its age, said city spokeswoman Opal Comfort, but a plan to upgrade the complex’s fire protection had been submitted.

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