Crowds view New Year’s fireworks as Dubai hotel burns

A fire that broke out Thursday at a luxury hotel in Dubai was still raging a few hours after midnight, but with the block evacuated and few injuries reported, authorities proceeded with a New Year’s fireworks display at the world’s tallest building a few hundred meters away.

Officials said the fire at the luxury Address Downtown Dubai hotel was 90 percent contained, but was still burning on the north side. Flames were visible on most floors, and black smoke continued to billow. Emergency vehicles were still in the vicinity. Authorities said 14 people were injured.

There was no definitive word about what caused the massive blaze.

When the fire broke out in the 63-floor downtown hotel, tens of thousands of people had crowded into a cordoned-off area to watch the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks, something Dubai does in a big way and is proud of.

Sitting in a nearby restaurant a few hundred meters from the hotel, we looked up when the fountains on the esplanade erupted, as they did on the half hour. As we applauded the water show, the Address hotel burst into flames. Within minutes, fire shot up the entire north side of the hotel building, shocking the crowds in the restaurants. Within minutes, fiery debris showered down off the building.

The hotel stands across from the world’s tallest skyscraper, the 800-meter-tall Burj Khalifa, which was to be the initial focal point of the spectacular 25-minute fireworks display across Dubai to usher in 2016.

The streets in and out of the complex had been closed with metal barriers since 6 p.m.; at 9:30, the streets were thick with people. They packed the sidewalks 10 to 15 deep. There were lots of families with children and baby strollers. But there also was a strong and visible security presence. The crowds, many of them Indian and Pakistani guest workers, were calm.

The spectacular fireworks display took place with the burning hotel in the background.

The hotel, a favorite with international celebrities and wealthy travelers, was reportedly fully booked with people who had come to see the fireworks. Authorities said that they were able to evacuate everyone safely.

United Arab Emirates authorities said earlier Thursday that thousands of security personnel were on duty to safeguard conditions during the festivities.


(Photo: M. Besheer/VOA)