A huge fire ripped through a luxury Dubai hotel, injuring 16 people, just a few hours before the emirate celebrated the new year with a spectacular fireworks display nearby.
The Address Downtown hotel, which is a few blocks from the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, was engulfed in flames across several floors last night as sirens wailed and helicopters hovered overhead, witnesses said.
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Dubai’s police chief said all the residents of the five-star hotel had been evacuated from the scene of the blaze, the cause of which was unknown and which had still not been extinguished some four hours after it broke out.
“All the residents are out,” General Khamis Matar al-Mzeima said.
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“Until the fire is put out, we will not have information on what caused it,” he added.
“At least 14 people have been slightly injured, along with one medium injury, and a heart attack case registered due to people pushing” amid the smoke, the media office tweeted.
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) December 31, 2015
Witness Raphael Slama told AFP the fire started at around 9:30 pm (local time) and rapidly spread upwards across dozens of floors.
An AFP photographer at the scene said “it began in the middle of the hotel, then went down like lightning before shooting up again.”
“People in the vicinity began to run in panic to get away from the area,” he added.
Kumar, an Indian resident in Dubai who was near the hotel with his wife, told AFP: “We saw fire coming out of the top storeys two hours before midnight and people began screaming and running away from the hotel.”
“What was strange is that the fire was disappearing and then reappearing again,” said Mohammed al-Majed, a Saudi tourist who was at the restaurant around a kilometre (mile) away. “It was mainly concentrated in the middle of the building.”
“We were worried about casualties and afraid the celebrations would be cancelled.”
A video circulating on social media showed anxious shoppers at the huge nearby Dubai Mall as they rushed to get out, with a woman shouting: “Folks don’t run… don’t panic”.
Another witness who asked not to be named and was near the hotel area told AFP that New Year’s Eve event organisers and security personnel “started panicking and were screaming and ushering people” into the nearby Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping centres.
“Half an hour later, they told us to get out of the mall because they were closing it down, he said, adding that people began running out.