DUBAI // The city came to a standstill last night as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to watch the inauguration of the Burj Khalifa. Natalia Mayoroua, an employee of Emaar, which built the tower. She will be working in the building's customer service section, said she felt proud to be involved with the new landmark.
"The baby is born we have been waiting for its birth and I hope it will grow and develop," she said. Rene Wernli, area manager for a logistic company, agreed. "It is excellent to be here, to be part of history," he said. "I have been living in Dubai for the last seven years and been seeing this city grow, and it is a great honour to see the completion of this project." Saif al Kitbi, a government employee said he was proud to be Emirati on such a day. "The completion of this project especially in such difficult financial conditions around the globe is a symbol of the powerfulness of life."
Several members of the public who were trying to secure entry to the event caused some chaos at the gate near the Dubai Mall water fountain. People were pushing each other to get in. The road from the first interchange of Sheikh Zayed Road to the Defence roundabout came to a standstill for several hours, and the traffic did not clear until 9.45pm. Dozens of cars were parked along several inner roads parallel to Sheikh Zayed Road as residents from all age groups took to the streets to see the fireworks. Residents of nearby neighbourhoods stood on balconies to take part in the celebrations.
Thousands of people swarmed around the Souk al Bahar in anticipation of the grand opening of the world's tallest structure. Families, tourists, residents and spectators had gathered around the mall as early as 10am to watch the 7.30pm opening. Stores, cafes and restaurants were on full alert awaiting the influx of spectators. "We have seen large crowds gather since 3pm," said Khalid al Marzooqi, an Emirati usher and co-ordinator at the event.
Haider Harbi, an Iraqi resident of Sharjah said he had planned to attend with his family. "We have co-ordinated our plans, and my sister, my brother, my wife and her family have all been here since 10am waiting to see the show." "I want to witness a historic event and hopefully see a show which will give Dubai its third Guinness record," he said. Restaurants and cafes were jam-packed at the souk. Many patrons who did not have bookings were turned away. Cafes had queues lining up from the counters.
Izzat Ismail, a resident of the Old Town, said: "There are more people around today than I've ever seen since I moved in." At 7.30pm the buzz of anticipation was increasing as more people flooded in to watch the show. People were sitting on folding chairs, stairs or makeshift seats. "My family and my friends have all joined us here from Abu Dhabi," said Amin Abdel Aziz, a Jordanian accountant living in Dubai. "I first came to Dubai when it was being built in 2006, and to see it ready was a special occasion for me."
At 8pm, the crowds swelled in anticipation of the fireworks. "All our children were pushing us to see the opening. Kira and Michael are really excited after seeing the Atlantis hotel launch," said Steven Keyhoe, a British resident. His wife added: "We want to view the show and be part of the historic occasion." At 8.21pm the crowds got tighter as the fireworks started. "We were planing to visit Dubai for some time," said Nicholas D'Souza, a French tourist who came with his wife. "We were very lucky with our timing to see this event, especially that we are staying by it at the Manzil hotel."
At 8.26pm the water and light show began with a blast of water shooting up high above the crowd. People watching at the edge of the waterfront cheered as they were drenched in the spray from the fountain show. An Italian photography crew was excited. "This is great," Silvio Zio said. "We flew down from Rome to witness the event, and from every angle it is a success for us." At 8.33pm the fireworks turned night into day.
"This is like science fiction," said Hamid Hussein, a 14-year-old Bahraini tourist. "I cannot wait to visit the deck and see the top of the world." Rashid Rashid, an Emirati, expressed surprise at the number of spectators. "I came with my family expecting crowds, but the numbers of people and tourists really shocked me," he said. "We hope to be some of the first visitors to the Burj if we are lucky."
As the thousands swarmed to get a better view, police worked to keep proceedings under control. A small room at the sound and light control booth served as the operations room for Dubai Police. A handful of police officers co-ordinated the work of more than 1,000 policemen on the ground. "We have been preparing for this event for a long time back, and the entire place has been scanned several times in the last 48 hours. Each and every item which entered the venue has to be scanned and we will not allow any new items to arrive," said Lt Col Omar al Shamsi, the director of the command and control room at Dubai Police.
The whole security operation was very discreet. "We always do things very quietly because we do not want to spread panic among the public," said Col al Shamsi. Several special police teams, including snipers and a bomb squad, were deployed around the site. Most policemen were also ordered to wear civilian clothes to avoid transforming the areas to what police officers called a "military camp". Guests had to enter four different security gates before arriving to their seats and there were policemen stationed at the end of each seat row.