A photographer has told how he attached a window cleaning cable to his belt to avoid falling to his death when fire engulfed a skyscraper in Dubai.
Dennis Mallari says his assignment to shoot the New Year’s Eve fireworks was going fine until his vantage point, the Address Downtown Dubai, started to go up in flames.
The 37-year-old Filipino was on the 48th floor looking out at the city’s skyline when fire broke out 28 floors below.
As flames licked the outside of the building, smoke quickly filled many of the hotel’s 63 floors, blocking off his potential exits.
“If I go there, inside to try to exit, I’m not going to die because of the fire,” he told CNN, but “because of the smoke.”
Trapped, scared and alone, he initially panicked and then sent desperate pleas to friends and family on Facebook.
“I’m here on the 48th floor. Help!” Mallari posted.
He also kept filming in an effort to stay calm, especially when things looked the worst.
“I saw some debris floating down from the building,” he remembered.
He took hold of a window cleaning cable and attached it to his belt to avoid falling to his death from the building.
“One hour, then that’s it, I’m dead,” he thought as he stood on the ledge, before eventually being saved by rescue workers.
Investigators have been working to determine the cause of the fire.
Authorities went ahead with a dazzling fireworks display at the nearby Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest skyscraper — despite the inferno, the latest in a series of fires in recent years to hit the buildings that make up the Dubai skyline.
They said the fire is believed to have erupted from the outside of the building on its 20th floor before spreading along its whole facade. But the exact cause is not yet known.
Dubai government’s media office issued a civil defence statement saying the process of cooling the hotel down was “ongoing”.
“Security services are investigating the causes and circumstances of the fire,” the statement rerad.
Witnesses described scenes of panic after the fire spread, with residents screaming and some fainting as they rushed to evacuate the building.
However, authorities said only 16 people suffered mostly minor injuries despite the presence of thousands in the area to watch the celebrations.
At least 14 people were slightly injured, one was moderately injured and one person suffered a heart attack during the evacuation, they said.
All victims have been discharged from hospital except for a pregnant women and an elderly man who were said to be “well” but were kept in “to ensure their safety”, the civil defence said.
Firefighters spent the night trying to extinguish the blaze.
Heavy black smoke still billowed from several floors of the hotel early on Friday, as firefighters continued to douse the building with water.
Roads leading directly to the hotel were closed but otherwise Dubai city centre appeared normal, with passersby stopping to take pictures of the building with their mobile phones.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan praised the “professional” civil defence response to the fire.
Questions over appropriateness of festivities
Many Twitter users also praised the response of fire and emergency services, pointing to the fact there were no major injuries, though some questioned whether New Year’s festivities should have gone ahead.
“Bizarre response of authorities in Dubai. Surely fireworks could have waited till tomorrow?” user Sumbal Naqi wrote.
Emirati state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash however defended the decision as “courageous” and “in favour of normal life against fear and pessimism.”
“The fire will not leave its print on year 2016,” he tweeted.
The government said evacuated guests were being offered alternative accommodation and said the New Year’s celebration was a testimony to Dubai’s “steadfast commitment to its major projects and initiatives”.
The Address Downtown hotel, opened in May 2008 and owned by Dubai property giant Emaar’s hospitality group, is the 18th tallest building in the city and the 93rd highest in the world.