Friday 24 November 2017

'The heat was so intense outside' - Irish survivor recalls horror of Dubai hotel blaze

Smoke billows from the Address Downtown skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates today (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Smoke billows from the Address Downtown skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates today (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Burning debris and smoke spill from the Address Downtown in Dubai Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Guests, residents and paramedics outside the burning skyscraper Photo: Reuters
A wounded woman cries outside the Address Downtown Dubai hotel Photo: Reuters
Wounded people are treated outside the Address Downtown Dubai hotel Photo: Reuters

Gordon Rayner, Richard Spencer and Martin Evans

New Year partygoers who escaped an inferno in a 63-storey Dubai hotel last night described scenes of sheer panic as people crushed each other in the scramble to get out.

Incredibly, no one was reported to have been killed when fire engulfed the Address Downtown hotel and apartments, according to officials in the emirate, despite the fact that fire alarms initially failed to go off.

One person suffered a heart attack in the stampede, 14 people suffered minor injuries and one person "moderate" injuries.

Western tourists were among hundreds of people inside the building who only realised it was on fire when they saw burning debris falling past windows and clouds of smoke outside.

Irishman Kenneth Flynn was having a drink in the second-floor lobby with his girlfriend at 9pm local time when she noticed something falling outside.

He said: "I went outside to have a look and by the time I walked out the whole building was just ablaze. The heat was so intense outside.

"By the time I came back in I had lost her because the whole place was in panic and people were crushing each other trying to get out and get down the stairs and jumping over railings, I couldn't believe how fast it happened.

"There was no fire alarm. I could hear no fire alarm going off. I'm not going to say I didn't panic myself, I was absolutely terrified, to be honest. I've never experienced anything like it. It was surreal." He managed to find his partner and they got out safely.

The fire was reported to have started on the 20th floor, and quickly spread up the outside of the building.

Internal fire extinguishing systems appeared to have worked, giving everyone inside the building time to get out alive and saving the internal structure.

The 302-metre building, completed in 2008 at a cost of €212m, has 196 hotel rooms and 626 serviced apartments and is part of the same Downtown Dubai development as the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

The Burj Khalifa was at the centre of Dubai's New Year fireworks display, which went ahead despite the fire.

The Address Downtown had been advertised as "the perfect place to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks".

The building was likely to have been packed with people because of its clear view of the 828-metre-tall Burj Khalifa, where the fireworks display took place.

Police blocked off areas around the 336 metre-high Torch tower, which still had power. Lights were on in many of the apartments inside and multiple fire engines and police vehicles were on the scene.

Residents of at least one neighbouring tower were told to evacuate as a precaution because of strong winds, but they were later allowed back inside.

One witness said the fire started in the middle of the tower before spreading down, describing it as like "the Titanic going down". Flaming material falling from the initial fire then set a lower part of the building ablaze.

Resident Steve Short (53), from Liverpool, praised the work of firefighters who arrived quickly. He said fire alarms alerted residents to the blaze and building management sent workers knocking on doors to ensure residents got out.

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