DUBAI // Guests were allowed back to the Address Downtown Dubai yesterday to collect their belongings after the New Year’s Eve fire that ravaged the hotel and residential skyscraper.
Civil defence crews declared the building safe to enter, and safety squads began checking all the building’s 63 floors as people made their way back to their ash and soot-filled rooms.
“Our teams are inside the hotel for safety reasons, to control and keep all areas secure,” said Abu Nasser, a spokesman for Dubai Civil Defence.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, the Deputy Ruler, visited the scene. They met firefighters and others helping with the clean-up, and thanked the emergency services for controlling the fire.
Hotel guests who had fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs were allowed to re-enter the building in small groups.
Later, as they made their way back outside, some carried hastily packed plastic bags and suitcases.
Others used hotel trolleys to take their luggage and some were helped by porters.
But with the stairwells still filled with smoke, some hotel guests abandoned their plans to go back to their rooms.
“I felt panic, I couldn’t breathe, so I will come back another day,” said Dr Raina Sultan, from Saudi Arabia, whose room was on the 52nd floor.
“But I don’t think I will get anything from my room because my friend on the seventh floor said her things are all gone. Her stuff is black, burnt and running with water.”
Many guests, including one family of Malaysian tourists who stayed on the 12th floor, lost almost all their possessions.
“Everything in my room is burnt, even the safe,” said the father, who had been in one of the fountain viewing lounges on Thursday when the building was evacuated.
“I could get nothing, no documents, no clothes or my personal belongings,” he said, although he found some of his children’s clothes untouched by the fire.
A German couple on the ninth floor away from the fire were luckier.
“There was a strong smell of smoke but our belongings are safe so we are relieved,” said Axel Scechert, in Dubai for his fourth visit.
They were dining in the restaurant The Cut when they heard people yell “Fire” and were among the first to evacuate.
A group of women from Bahrain dragged bags into waiting taxis with soot-covered hands.
“Our clothes and luggage are wet, but thanks to Allah we have found all our documents,” the Bahraini tourist said.
In other hotel apartments overlooking the scorched The Address hotel, clean-up crews began work on yards and rooms.
“There is a lot of ash, pieces from the building, insulation and foam in the garden so there is a lot of cleaning work to be completed,” said Manafu Cristian, a Romanian tourist who along with his wife and two children fled the Souk Al Bahar residences near the burning tower on Thursday.
“We will come back to clear all our luggage. We only got our passports out because we heard people screaming and saw ash floating in the yard. The security told us to run. The children cried a lot and don’t want to come back but we have told them that accidents happen.”
The speed with which the fire spread has led some experts to question the quality of cladding on buildings in Dubai, although no cause has yet been determined.
“We have started conducting our investigations today,” said Dubai’s Chief of Police, Maj Gen Khamis Al Muzeina.
“We will need time to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”
Emaar Properties, which owns the 63-storey luxury tower, said it was proud of the way the situation had been handled by both the emergency services and the community.
“Dubai has once again demonstrated its inherent strength and positivity with the swift, professional, calm and caring response to the fire incident at The Address Downtown Dubai hotel,” chairman Mohamed Alabbar said.
“We are extremely thankful to the leadership and guidance of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, for keeping our morale high, and for his prompt directives that enabled us to deal with a challenging situation with utmost professionalism.
“We also extend our heartfelt appreciation and debt of gratitude to the people of Dubai, especially the visitors to Downtown Dubai, for their patience and trust in us. Their orderly conduct demonstrated their confidence in Dubai’s officials to meeting any challenge calmly.
“Within minutes of the incident, Dubai Civil Defence, Dubai Police, Dubai Ambulance Services, the RTA, Dubai Heath Authority and all the governmental authorities concerned, coordinated and responded with maximum efficiency.
Guests and residents have been given alternative accommocation, Mr Alabbar said.
“Our immediate priority was ensuring the safety of our guests and colleagues, and we evacuated all of them safely in record time in a most orderly fashion. The authorities also ensured the safety of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Downtown Dubai.”