2016 New Year’s panic after massive fire rips though skycraper hotel close to Dubai’s firework display

January 1, 2016 7:26 am

• Fire engulfs 63-storey hotel close to ’s big firework display
• Officials say only 14 people hurt but medics claim figure higher
• Fireworks display at neighbouring Burj Khalifa goes ahead

A
massive fireworks display kicked off New Year’s at the world’s tallest
tower in Dubai, while plumes of smoke billowed in the air from a fire
raging at a nearby luxury tower.
Tens of thousands of people
whistled and cheered at the show taking place at the Burj Khalifa
skyscraper as teams of firefighters were working to put out the blaze
that had engulfed a 63-storey luxury hotel and residential building.
Just minutes before the fireworks began, large explosions could be heard
from inside the burning building, which was cloaked in thick black
smoke.

It was not clear what caused the blasts.
At least 14
people were slightly injured and one person suffered a heart attack from
the smoke and over-crowding during evacuation late on Thursday,
according to Dubai Media Office. The statement said another person was
moderately injured, without elaborating further. No children were among
those injured, it said.
However, a medic at the scene claimed that at least 60 people were hurt.
Around
1 million people had been expected to gather around the Burj Khalifa to
watch the fireworks. Dubai’s economy depends heavily on tourism, and
New Year’s is one of the busiest seasons, drawing people from around the
world to watch the fireworks that the emirate puts on at the world’s
tallest tower, as well as the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and over a
man-made palm-shaped island.

Organisers
had installed 400,000 LED lights on the Burj Khalifa and used around
1.6 tons of fireworks for the seven-minute extravaganza. Two years ago
on New Year’s, Dubai broke the world record for the largest fireworks
display.
The fire engulfed the Address Downtown, one of the most
upscale hotels and residences in Dubai, which was likely to have been
packed with people because of its clear view of the 828m tall Burj
Khalifa.
The hotel towers over the Souq Al Bahar, a popular
shopping area with walkways that connect to the Burj Khalifa and the
’s largest mall, the Dubai Mall.

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

Photo / Twitter
Photo / Twitter
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, which
ran up the 63-storey building. The Address is a 302m-tall skyscraper
that has 626 luxury apartments and 196 hotel rooms, according to
Skyscraper Center, which tracks such buildings.
Dubai’s Media
Office wrote on its official Twitter account that four teams of
firefighters were working to put out the blaze. They said the fire
appears to have originated on a 20th-floor terrace.
The fire
broke out about two hours before the midnight fireworks display was set
to begin. To manage the crowds, Dubai police had closed off some roads
and the metro before the fire broke out.
Nearly an hour after the
fire began, some onlookers began to leave while others stood, pressed
against crowd barricades, watching the blaze. Among them was Chris
Browne, a tourist from London, who watched with her husband, Stephen,
standing behind her. They said they hoped no one was injured.
“It’s pretty scary stuff,” she said.
Standing
nearby, Stuart O’Donnell, a British intensive care nurse who works in
Dubai, said he was worried for those inside the building as it was in a
prime location to watch the fireworks display.
“You feel sad for the people inside … It spread so quickly when it started,” he said.
He
and others in the crowd wondered what had started the blaze. “I do feel
suspicious of when a fire breaks out on New Year’s Eve,” he said.
Tom
Stroud, 35, on holiday in Dubai, said: “There was no bang or bomb-like
sound, we just looked over and saw an inferno. It gathered speed
extremely quickly.”
Maha Abouelnebin said: “Oh my God … that’s a fire. We decided we needed to get out of there.”
She
said that hotel staff moved people out of the hotel quickly. “They got
us out calmly … quickly. We were impressed with how easy we got out of
there.”

Another
witness, who watched from a nearby building, tweeted: “People are
running away! This is so horrific!!!!! Falling on people’s houses.”
Mohammed Al Sarraf, told the National the fire was raging.
“It’s
gotten so much bigger in five minutes. It’s gone from just a small fire
at the foot of the building and now it’s shooting up the middle and the
top.”
After the fireworks show, Girlie Omilda, a Filipina who
works in the aviation industry in Dubai, said she was glad to have seen
the fireworks, even as the tower continued to burn. She too was
concerned about threats from extremists like the Islamic State group.
She said Dubai’s large expatriate, non-Muslim population made the city a
tempting target.
“Sometimes it makes me feel unsafe,” she said.

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