Two Fires Hit UAE Buildings, Killing 10 Foreign Workers

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Published Saturday, February 21, 2015

Updated at 1:40 pm (GMT+2): Ten foreign workers have died in a fire that hit a tire shop in Abu Dhabi, apparently trapping the laborers in a warehouse used illegally for accommodation, local media said Saturday.

The deadly fire occurred on the same day as another fire hit a United Arab Emirates building, engulfing one of the tallest skyscrapers in Dubai and causing extensive damage to its luxury flats, without killing anyone.

Eight people were injured in the Abu Dhabi blaze that gutted the two-story building in the Mussaffah district on Friday, Gulf News daily reported, saying that the makeshift hostel above the shop was originally a storage area.

Police said the victims were of different nationalities and that the owner of the building was arrested, the paper said.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway.

"The injured were given first aid by medics and then taken to hospital while police and firefighters began the grisly task of recovering the 10 bodies," Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported.

Fires at warehouses in industrial zones are common in the United Arab Emirates and authorities across the Gulf nation continue to crack down on illegal accommodation of foreign laborers.

About 23 million foreigners, including at least 2.4 million domestic servants, live in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that brings together Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is home to millions of foreign workers, mostly from South Asian countries.

GCC countries have come under fire for the kafala system of sponsorship for migrant workers, which is used to varying extents across the Gulf.

It restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless they obtain their employer's consent, trapping many workers in abusive situations

Dubai fire hits luxury residential skyscraper

Meanwhile, hundreds of panicked residents fled one of the tallest towers in Dubai early Saturday, as the inferno gutted the upper part of the 79-story Torch tower, triggering an evacuation of nearby blocks in the Dubai Marina neighborhood, an AFP correspondent reported.

Amateur footage posted online showed fire engulfing the upper floors of the tower — home to hundreds of foreigners — with debris falling onto the road as strong winds fanned the flames.

Resident Mehdi Ansari told AFP that the fire alarm sounded at around 2:00 am (2200 GMT).

"I saw there was fire and pieces of the building falling down so I immediately took my wife and our baby. We took some important items and went down," he said.

"When we went to the staircase, it was full of smoke. Later the staircase got busier and smokier, the lights went off and some people panicked."

Civil defense teams cleared the building, which at 336 meters (1,105 feet) is one of the world's tallest residential towers.

Dubai police said there were no fatalities but seven people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

A civil defense department statement said the fire began on the 51st floor and swept across the tower's facade affecting 20 storys.

Major General Rashid Thani al-Matroushi, director of Dubai civil defense, said firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading to nearby buildings.

Firefighters battled the blaze for more than two hours, before hundreds of residents of nearby towers were allowed to return to their apartments.

Dubai Marina is a popular neighborhood for well-to-do foreigners that has a high concentration of residential towers. It is also a major tourist attraction.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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