Dreadful accounts: ‘There was smoke everywhere’

Published: December 5, 2016

KARACHI: I woke up due to suffocation and found thick clouds of smoke everywhere in the room. It was a chaotic situation and we were all crying for help until we fell unconscious after battling for almost half an hour.

Nusrat, a nurse belonging to Dadu, shared this account with The Express Tribune as she lay on a stretcher in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the accident and emergency ward of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) on Monday. She was among the numerous people injured in the fire that broke out at Regent Plaza Hotel the same day. Besides the injured, the blaze claimed the lives of 12 people.

She explained how she had come to Karachi for training through a non-governmental organisation (NGO) Monday morning. She added that her room was on the seventh floor.

Most of the guests staying at the hotel were injured while trying to save their lives. Seven floors of the hotel, including the reception, lobby and dining area, were filled with thick smoke within few minutes after the fire broke out. As a result, a number of people suffered from suffocation as they attempted to get out of the hotel building by coming downstairs from their rooms on the eighth floor hotel.

Nusrat was among the 80 injured people who were brought to JPMC for treatment. According to the director of JPMC, Seemin Jamali, majority of the 80 injured survivors brought to JPMC suffered from smoke inhalation and suffocation. However, she added, all of them, including three Chinese survivors, have been discharged after their conditions stabilised. Jamali added that five out of the 12 people who were killed in the blaze are doctors. She explained that one Chinese man had fractures in a rib and a foot, the second had soft tissue injuries and the third had some minor injury.

According to Jamali, the people who lost their lives in the fire were eight men and four women, all of whom were staying as guests at the hotel. Three of the four female victims were staff nurses.

Meanwhile, the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) confirmed that 37 injured – 25 men and 12 women aged between three and 57 years – were brought to the hospital. According to the hospital management, only one patient is in critical condition while 20 others, including 13 men and seven women, have been discharged.

According to health secretary Dr Usman Chachar, two injured persons were also taken to South City Hospital.

After celebrations

Celebrating the wedding of his brother at a hall of Regent Plaza Hotel, Jamal Ali, a Pakistani-Australian citizen had never thought that his family would suffer one of the worst fires in any hotel of the city. “My brother and I were talking late at night while sitting in our room on eighth floor when we heard a loud bang in the hotel premises,” recalled Ali as he stood outside the hotel with a bandage on his hand.

More scenes of horror

According to a nurse from Naushero Feroz, Rizwana, it was around 3am in the morning when she tried to switch on the lights but they didn’t work. “We tried to break the window panes but it proved to be futile,” she narrated. “Later, I was left unconscious and when I regained my senses, I found myself here [at the hospital]. I still have a problem in breathing and it feels that I have taken in a lot of toxic smoke.”

She shared that according to officials, three of her colleagues, who had come from Sukkur, Khairpur and Loralai in Balochistan, died in the incident.

Many people, upon finding no way to attain an exit from the hotel, broke the window glasses of their rooms and corridors with the help of lamps or chairs and jumped outside. This injured them as they broke their legs and suffered from several deep cuts due to the broken glasses.

“I thought I would not survive and will die while coughing,” said a four-year-old girl who was staying at the hotel with her family. She was staying on the third floor of the hotel when the fire erupted and another guest at the hotel helped her to exit safely. “He helped me to come down through a ladder he placed at the window of my room,” she said, pointing towards the rescue officers who placed ladders to save people who were trapped in the upper floors.

Hyderabad health officer Dr Iqtidar and his wife, Dr Nuzhat, also recalled the dreadful night at the hotel. “We checked in at the hotel Sunday night to attend the United Nation Population Fund programme on reproductive health on Monday,” said Dr Iqtidar, adding that around 2:30am, the door of his room on the second floor was knocked by a guard who was shouting and instructing everyone to evacuate the floor because of the fire on the ground floor of the hotel. “When we tried running towards the stairs and lifts, there was only smoke in our way, which is why we ran in the opposite direction,” he said, adding that a hotel staff member helped them find the fire exit, which was not enough to evacuate the large number of guests staying at the hotel.

Falling and rising

“My brother and I ran downstairs until the fifth floor but could not find the way to the fire exit because the entire area was filled with smoke and people were fainting,” shared a survivor, Ali, while explaining the difficulties he faced and how the other five members of his family were stuck on the eighth floor. Ali’s family went into balconies and closed the windows in order to save themselves from the smoke. They were later rescued with the help of cranes.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2016.

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