Kansas City, MO Coates House Hotel Fire, Jan 1978
AT LEAST 13 ARE DEAD IN KANSAS CITY HOTEL FIRE -- MANY OTHERS MISSING.
Kansas City, Mo. (AP) -- Fire swept through the centuryold downtown Coates House hotel early today, killing at least 13 persons, and officials say there may be more victims.
Police Sgt. ROBERT KINSER said 35 persons were still unaccounted for by mid-day Saturday, but he said authorities have no idea how many might have been out of town of staying elsewhere when the fire broke out.
Efforts to enter the hotel and recover other victims have been hampered by official fears that the building may collapse.
At least four of the victims plunged to their deaths from upper stories of the six-floor building to the pavement below.
Firemen responding to the 4:12 a. m. alarm, turned in by a desk clerk, found persons hanging out the windows of the smoking building.
By 8 a. m., the fire was said to be under "limited control," and firemen continued pouring a steady stream of water on the smoldering remains in 5-degree weather.
JOHN WAAS, battalion fire chief, said portions of the building's walls, were very fragile and prevented firemen from getting into the debris to search for more victims.
WAAS said firemen knew of at least two or three more persons who were unaccounted for and expected to find at least that many more victims in the ruins.
He said the fire started somewhere in one of the upper stories of the building, which was reduced to just a shell.
Residents of the one-time frame and stone luxury hotel, where about 140 persons lived in apartment units, gathered with persons seeking relatives at a bar across the street.
BILL MAVERICH, a desk clerk, said he smelled smoke about 4 a. m. and, with another resident, began running from room to room on the second and third floor, kicking in the doors of some rooms, and shouting for people to wake up and get out of the building.
MAVERICH said they couldn't reach the fourth floor to warn residents there because of the thick smoke.
JOE BONINO, owner of the bar, said he was leaving his establishment about 4 a. m. when he saw smoke pouring from the upper floors of the hotel.
"They've had mattress fires, but never anything like this," he said. "People were hanging out the windows, screaming for help."
"The firemen put two (aerial) ladders up to two windows and they were taking people out as fast as they could. These firemen would bring the old-timers down the ladders. They were standing around in the streets in pajamas and shorts, some of them with no shoes. So I opened the bar and let them in here."
"All you could see was the top parts of bodies hanging out the windows screaming for help. People were breaking out windows, trying to get out, and yelling 'Over here!' and 'Save me!' to the firemen."
BONINO said he watched as firemen took the hotel's manager of six years, BILL MEIERKORD, from his fifth floor room window. Just after MEIERKORD got onto the fire ladder. BONINO said, a huge ball of fire billowed through the window and almost caught him and the firemen.
"His (MEIERKORD) hand was cut, and he was shaking and crying," BONINO said "I took him in (the bar) and wrapped a towel around the cut to stop the bleeding."
Telephone calls flooded into the bar from families of the hotel's residents trying to trace loved ones. Firemen assembled the survivors in the bar and tried to take a roll call to determine who was missing, but were only partly successful because of the pandemonium.
More than 100 survivors were taken by bus to the Salvation Army Center on the southeast edge of the downtown district.
The Coates House opened in 1867 and noted with pride that it had served three presidents -- William McKinley, Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt. It is said Cleveland spent some of his honeymoon there.
The hotel was listed as a historic site and included on the National Registry.
The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune Missouri 1978-01-28
HOTEL FIRE DEATH TOLL RISES TO 16
Kansas City, Mo. (AP) -- Firemen recovered the charred bodies of three more victims, including two small children, early today among the icecoated debris of the Coates House hotel, raising the number of known dead to 16.
The discovery made the weekend blaze the most deadly in Kansas City history, pushing the toll past the 15 killed in a 1924 apartment fire.
Twelve persons were still unaccounted for today, and serachers speculated the bodies of at least some of them would also be found.
Police had listed the number of bodies found through Sunday night at 14, but downgraded that figure to 13 today before the latest recoveries.
Officials earlier listed more people as missing, but police said this morning that some residents listed on the hotel's guest list were working elsewhere at the time of the fire.
Workers stopped the search shortly after nightfall Sunday, and it was to resume today. An all-night guard was posted at the scene.
One of 10 persons injured in the fire was in critical condition Sunday night at a local hospital, and about 140 escaped unharmed but homeless. Four of the injured were treated and released over the weekend.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Fire Chief JOHN WAAS said the fire appeared to have started on one of the upper three floors. He said that would seen to discount the possibility of arson.
An investigator from the Missouri state fire marshal's office was assisting police and fire officials in the probe which WAAS said would probably last through the week.
The fire swept through the six-story hotel shortly before sunrise Saturday, consuming the south wing of the U-shaped structure. Only an ice-coated shell remained of that wing today as the workers used heavy machinery as well as picks, rakes, shovels and hooks to poke through the rubble of the 110-year-old hotel.
WAAS said if some of the missing aren't found elsewhere soon, the chances are good that they will be found in the ruins.
"You never know when or where these people will show up," he added. "They might be visiting relatives or something."
Most of the hotel's residents lived on meager incomes and many were elderly. Weekly rent for rooms at the once-glamorous hotel was between $12 and $17.
Many residents were trapped on the upper floors and several died in leaps to the pavement. The body of one man remained frozen in a sixth story window until Sunday because firemen were unable to reach it. Witnesses at the scene described the people screaming for help as the fire raged out of control about 4:30 a. m.
"People were jumping out of windows," said LARRY FINNEY, a tavern owner who arrived early Saturday at his bar across the alley from the hotel. "Four of them were lying on my front door. I gave one old man an old pair of shoes and a blanket. They had just rescued him from the hotel, he was all cocered[sic] with plaster and soot."
The decaying downtown hotel, built in 1867, was a local stopping place for Presidents William McKinley, Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt. In recent years it had become a home mostly for transients and the elderly.
Twenty-three fire trucks arrived at the scene along with 90 firemen. By 5 a. m., the structure, including the girders, began to collapse under the intense heat, fire officials said.
Efforts to take each resident out of the building by ladder, which normally would take only a few seconds, were hampered because people were scattered throughout the building on both sides, WAAS said.
A Salvation Army spokesman reported that Kansas Citians had responded with enough clothing over the weekend for all those displaced by the fire.
Maj. JAMES BARKER of the Salvation Army said $4,000 had been collected by Sunday evening by that group. The City Union Mission and the Red Cross have also established funds.
BARKER said the money would help pay for items such as eye-glasses, hearing aids and dentures lost in the blaze.
Among those listed as dead were: LAWRENCE J. KARNOWSKI, 59; HERBERT RICHMONG, 45, and his wife, PENNY, about 29; JAMES SWICKARD, 62, and HARRY JONES, 52.
The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune Missouri 1978-01-30
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!