x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Helicopter lifts family from burning tower's roof

Hundreds barred from entering their homes overnight as Civil Defence ensures new Al Aneeqa building in Sharjah is safe.

Sana Bawadi and her children, from left, Abdullah, Lian and Ismail, wait in the street while firefighters tackle the flames in the Al Aneeqa Tower in Sharjah.
Sana Bawadi and her children, from left, Abdullah, Lian and Ismail, wait in the street while firefighters tackle the flames in the Al Aneeqa Tower in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // A mother and her three children were flown to safety by helicopter from the roof of a new apartment building that caught fire yesterday.

A total of six people were rescued from the 30-storey Al Aneeqa Tower, which was completed less than a year ago. The building’s residents were forced to find other places to stay last night.

The family of four was picked up by a Ministry of Interior helicopter, while two others were escorted out by firefighters, said Brig Gen Abdullah Al Suwaidi, the director general of Sharjah Civil Defence.

“No one has been hurt. No one is in hospital,” Brig Al Suwaidi said yesterday evening. “Now we are carrying out routine checks to ensure the building is safe before allowing residents back in.”

Osama Abdulla, the father of the family flown from the building, claimed his wife and three children, aged 2, 4, and 6, waited for 90 minutes before being lifted by helicopter.

“My family is shaken,” said Mr Abdulla. “We live on the 25th floor. Because the floors below had caught fire the only way was for them to go on to the terrace. They waited for one and a half hours before being airlifted.”

Last night the residents were told they would not be allowed to return to their homes until today. It took Civil Defence teams from Dubai and Sharjah an hour to extinguish the blaze that started in a kitchen on the 8th floor at 12.50pm and spread to the 25th floor.

Authorities on site could not confirm the cause of the fire. “We have passed on the matter to the police and they will investigate,” said Brig Al Suwaidi, adding the fire-safety systems appeared to be in working order.

Sana Bawadi, who lives on the 15th floor, said smoke had engulfed her apartment about 1pm. “I opened the windows and could see the floors below on fire,” said Ms Bawadi, who moved into her apartment six months ago.

“I immediately called the police, collected my children and ran out. I had no time to pick up anything and left the door open as well.”

Zoe Xiang Ren, who lives on the 7th floor, said she only had time to grab her house keys and rushed outside with her daughter, both of them barefoot.

“I hope our belongings are not damaged,” Ms Xiang Ren said. “But I am glad my daughter and I are safe at the moment.”

Abdul Samad, a 12th-floor resident, said: “All my belongings, documents and laptop were in the apartment. I was at work when a friend called and said that a fire had broken out. I still cannot understand what happened.

“The damage looks quite bad. We haven’t been allowed to go back upstairs and see what has happened.”

Mr Samad, who lives with a friend and works as a purchasing executive at a local company, spent the night in a hotel.

“I hope authorities will allow us to return tomorrow. We still don’t know the extent of the damage,” he said.

Some disgruntled residents said the fire could have been contained more quickly if the authorities had responded promptly.

“It started on the 8th floor but could have been avoided from spreading to other floors if Civil Defence was more swift,” said one of the residents who was standing among a group of grumbling neighbours.

But Brig Al Suwaidi said authorities had responded within 10 minutes of receiving the call. Authorities confiscated mobile phones of spectators who took pictures of the building on fire.

“The police took my phone and deleted the pictures I took,” said Jai Kumar, who lives close by. “They returned the phone after deleting them.”

About 4.15pm yesterday, a second fire started in the rubbish room of the building next door to Al Aneeqa Tower. The fire was said to be unrelated to the Al Aneeqa blaze, but residents panicked when they saw smoke coming from the refuse chutes in their apartments.

Civil Defence evacuated the building, extinguished the small fire in minutes and told residents they could return to their apartments by 4.45pm.

Residents of that building said they had been complaining about faulty firefighting equipment and signals in the building. “It’s a terrible situation and the Civil Defence has to assess these buildings,” said a Pakistani resident. “The fire-alarm system is not working and I have complained repeatedly about it.”

Brig Al Suwaidi acknowledged the issue and said it would be addressed.