Fire engulfs Dubai hotel ahead of New Year celebrations

media captionAnita Williams was in the hotel when it caught fire and described a stampede as people fled

A huge fire has engulfed a 63-storey hotel in central Dubai ahead of a New Year's Eve firework display.

Despite the blaze at the Address hotel, the display at the nearby Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, started as planned at midnight.

Officials say the fire has been brought largely under control and 16 people suffered mostly minor injuries.

It is unclear what caused the blaze, which broke out as large crowds had gathered to ring in the New Year.

People were asked to leave the area around the Address Downtown Hotel, which was evacuated.

The fire broke out at about 21:30 local time (17:30 GMT) and appeared to engulf much of the building, a five-star hotel and apartment complex, within 10 minutes.

At the scene: Nadia Huraimi, BBC News, Dubai

As I watched the flames engulf the massive building, I knew right away it was the Address Hotel in Dubai's downtown district that overlooks Burj Khalifa. I also knew that it was fully booked five years in advance.

There were also thousands of people in the streets below and in the adjacent buildings, all waiting to view the highly anticipated New Year's Eve fireworks display, among them my youngest sister.

After checking on my sister, I hastily decided to head out to downtown Dubai in the hope of seeing the scene on the ground for myself.

As I approached downtown, I realised that the normally brightly illuminated Burj Khalifa was only half-lit and I could barely see the imposing structure amid the black smoke from the Address Hotel.

I did not expect to spend the next four hours right outside the downtown area, in one of the worst traffic jams I have ever encountered.

As the clock struck midnight, I resigned myself to ringing in the New Year among thousands of strangers, all gazing out of our cars towards Burj Khalifa's spectacular fireworks display, alongside a burning hotel.

The blaze started on the 20th floor and did not spread inside the building, officials said.

The Dubai government tweeted that 14 people had suffered minor injuries, one had moderate injuries and there was one "heart attack case" due to "overcrowding and smoke".

Irish singer Anita Williams, who was performing at the hotel when the fire began, told the BBC that people left in a "stampede".

"We left everything. There was debris falling down. It [the fire] just shot up through the entire hotel.

"Everybody was screaming, everybody was running... I thought: 'This is a film'."

image copyrightAFP
image captionSmoke from the fire could be seen obscuring the view of the illuminated Burj Khalifa ahead of the display
image copyrightReuters
image captionThe fireworks display at the Burj Khalifa went ahead, apparently as planned
media captionFootage showed flames engulfing the Address Hotel in January

The fireworks display went ahead as smoke continued to billow from the hotel.

Alternative accommodation would be offered to evacuated guests, the Dubai government said.

BBC World Service Middle East editor Sebastian Usher says the display is a hugely prestigious event for Dubai, and authorities want the images that people look back on next year to be of the fireworks - and not of the blaze.

Tom Stroud, from London, who is staying near the hotel, said: "It happened so quickly. There was smoke billowing everywhere and people running away."

A tourist, Michelle Duque told the BBC: "All of a sudden we saw this huge black plume of black smoke coming between the Khalifa Tower and the hotel.

"The flames burst out really big and before we knew it, the whole of the Address Hotel was covered in orange flames."

image copyrightReuters
image copyrightReuters
image copyrightReuters

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