Sharjah fire leaves hundreds homeless

More than 200 families have been moved after a massive fire on Tuesday evening destroyed the 14-storey building where they lived.

Basma Huneidi and Mustafa al Sewaifi are among the people provided with temporary accommodation at a hotel in Sharjah.
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SHARJAH // More than 200 families have been moved after a massive fire on Tuesday evening destroyed the 14-storey building where they lived. The fire started about 5:30pm in the al Kuwait tower and more than 100 firefighters spent more than five hours putting out the blaze. Six people were injured; no one died.

"We have seen big fires here but not at any time did fire burn completely a whole tower like this," said Col Waheed al Serkal, the Sharjah Civil Defence director general. "This fire is equivalent to that of factories and industries we have handled before." Large fires have plagued the Northern Emirates as the weather has turned hotter. Many have broken out in industrial areas, some of which are near housing developments. Five warehouses belonging to National Paints were destroyed in May in a blaze that affected residents as it spread.

The displaced families were put in three hotels at the expense of UAE Red Crescent. Almost 60 people from 21 families were sent to the Amwaj Hotel Suites, al Dhiyafa Palace Hotel and the Rayan Hotel, said Salah Salman, the public relations director at the Red Crescent branch in Sharjah. "We gave them all the basic requirements like clothes, free meals and toiletries last night, and we are willing to host them until they can again afford their own accommodation elsewhere," he said.

The Ministry of Interior was following up on the victims to help them with any documents that were lost, he said. Salih Eid al Shuwayheen, the Director of Charity Affairs at the Sharjah International Charitable Organisation, said they are offering the victims cash donations. "We have so far given Dh1,500 to all those staying in hotels on Red Crescent account," he said. "We shall continue giving more money and required assistance to all the victims who come to us."

Some residents of the tower said they felt lucky to escape with their lives. Mustafa al Sewaifi, an Egyptian who teaches Arabic in Sharjah, said he was asleep when the fire broke out. Police directing the evacuation woke him up. "I looked everywhere in the room and there was darkness," he said. "I jumped to the door and the rescue people were in the staircase calling on a loud microphone to anyone who needed assistance to move out. I screamed aloud that I was there and two rescuers appeared and helped me go down the stairs."

Mr al Sewaifi, who has been in the UAE since 1968, found his wife pleading with rescuers to go up and find him in their seventh- floor apartment. They lost all their belongings in the house and their car, which was parked outside the building, also caught fire. Rafidah Hamza, a Sudanese woman visiting the Emirates, was in a relative's apartment on the third floor. She also heard the evacuation calls.

"All I could carry with me was my Sudan wrap," she said. "I ran barefooted from the house and remained like that for the whole evening." Raja Ram, a resident of the tower's seventh floor, escaped the fire because he was returning home from work at the time and was sitting in a traffic jam on the Al Arouba Road. He said he learnt about the fire from a radio broadcast. In a second incident, a fire gutted a glass warehouse in Sharjah's industrial area. The fire started about 3pm and was put out in less than an hour. No one was believed to have been injured.