ABU DHABI // Hundreds of families, students and professionals were forced to evacuate the 46-storey Sama Tower early yesterday after an electrical fire filled it with smoke.
Many residents waited for up to four hours or checked into nearby hotels after being awakened just after midnight by alarms and evacuation calls by building security officials.
They were able to return to the building, which contains 640 flats and 11,000 square metres of office space, at about 4am after the smoke from a 34th-floor electricity room was contained.
Maria Angelaki-King, who moved her family to Abu Dhabi from England last week, said she had to wake her two young children and did not have time to find their shoes before leaving their flat on the 16th floor.
"We could smell the smoke so we rushed out barefoot and in our pyjamas, and then realised it would be a long time before we could go back," Mrs Angelaki-King said.
"People were milling around, trying to get their babies to stop crying. It was pretty miserable."
The family eventually checked into a nearby hotel but Ridley, 7, missed his first day at Al Muna Primary School because he could not get back to sleep.
"The humidity and the shuffling around turned out to be a bit of a big event," Mrs Angelaki-King said.
Raffi Esber said he had to check into a hotel and missed work at his job at a holding company.
"It was inconvenient and the smell is still really bad," Mr Esber said. "Once people realised they were not getting back in, they started thinking about where they would sleep and how to get out of the heat."
New York University Abu Dhabi, which leases part of the building to house students and staff, cancelled classes.
Students were shuttled from their dorms at Sama Tower to a nearby classroom building, while professors and staff had to check into area hotels.
The university's second batch of students started classes last week.
Nahal Mustafa, a first-year student, said most of her peers did not mind the disruption.
"It felt like a very, very early morning field trip," Ms Mustafa said.