Officials say Puerto Rican hotel fire was set, seek more clues. No evidence of bombs or other incendiary devices found so far
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Investigators have concluded that the fire that claimed 96 lives at the Dupont Plaza Hotel here was caused by arson. But they say no evidence has been found that the blaze was started by a bomb or other incendiary device. The findings were announced by Puerto Rican Attorney General Hector Rivera Cruz. The New Year's Eve fire turned the luxury hotel's casino into an inferno in a matter of seconds.
Mr. Rivera said investigators were sure the blaze was deliberately set but had been unable to find traces of a bomb or other incendiary device, or to pinpoint blame.
Investigators will continue trying to establish ``the responsibility for this crime in any group involved in hotel operations,'' Rivera said, but added that there were no suspects at this time.
There has been speculation here that friction between hotel management and employees who are members of a Teamster's Union local may have been the motivation for setting the blaze.
Efforts to reach officials of the Teamsters or hotel management for comment were unsuccessful.
Guests at the hotel have spoken of warnings from employees that they should leave the Dupont Plaza because of the tense situation, but union officials have denied that their members were involved.
Police said they received a threat that a bomb was set to explode at the Dupont Plaza Hotel about two hours before the fire started.
But Jos'e Luis Lopez, a police spokesman, said yesterday that hotel management declined to let patrolmen search the hotel. He said the hotel's reservations manager, Edwin Santiago, told the police, ``Everything is under control here.''
Danny Velez, press secretary to Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, said that 119 people were injured in the blaze and 19 of them remained in hospitals. Of the 96 killed, he said 41 had been identified.
A United States military transport Sunday flew eight victims from the international airport here to New Haven, Conn., where they were to be treated at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. The plane also carried relatives of the injured.
Andrew Vita, a supervisor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a US agency that assisted in the arson investigation, said that explosions patrons said they heard before the fire were not necessarily caused by bombs.
``The sounds are consistent with the movement of fire, without an incendiary device,'' Vita said.
He said that chemical samples, which investigators hope will enable them to find those responsible for the fire, were being sent to a government laboratory in Rockville, Md.