Two labourers die as dozens are trapped in fire at Dubai skyscraper

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The Independent Online

At least two workers were killed and 57 injured when a fire broke out at an apartment building under construction in Dubai.

Witnesses said civil defence teams fought to rescue workers trapped in the 37-storey building, located in a major development area of the city. Workers became trapped on the building's unfinished upper floors and some said they saw a man fall to his death while trying to descend the building's glass-covered exterior.

"Some of the workers were trying to climb down on cables. One guy in red was trying to climb down and then he just fell. It was horrible," said Louise Olson, 25, from Denmark, who watched the scene from a high-rise facing the tower.

Dubai police major Rashid al-Falasi confirmed that one worker died in a fall. Another died in the building from a severe head injury apparently suffered while fleeing the smoke, he said. Three of the 57 injured men were admitted to hospital, Major Falasi said.

Firefighters has to smash windows to reach a man perched for more than an hour on a 13th-floor ledge. "He was panicked and not responding. They used psychology to keep him calm," said Major Falasi. "Then they used ropes and a ladder to bring him in."

Black smoke billowed for about two hours from the upper floors of the blue-glass building, located in a cluster of dozens of apartment towers under construction on Dubai's southern outskirts. Trapped labourers in blue overalls could be seen waving towels at hovering helicopters or climbing to the roof on scaffolding.

The cause of the fire, which was extinguished within a couple of hours, is under investigation, said Major Falasi, but terrorism was not suspected.

Witnesses said the fire broke out at around 12.30pm and burned for at least an hour before fire engines arrived on the scene.

Attempts by Dubai's inexperienced emergency services to extinguish the fire and rescue the trapped workers appeared disorganised. A rescue helicopter was unable to land on the building's roof, and firefighters on the ground took hours to start evacuating workers through a 10th-storey window, even after most of the smoke had dissipated. It was not clear why those trapped near the roof were unable to make their way to lower floors.

Most of the injured labourers suffered from smoke inhalation.

The fire is bound to trigger discussions on upgrading Dubai's emergency services to handle high-rise rescues in a city with hundreds of such towers. A skyscraper, intended by its builders to be the world's tallest when finished, reached its 100th storey this week.

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