Dubai: Residents of the 87-storey Torch Tower that caught fire early Friday morning were allowed back on Saturday in the building to recover their valuables.
But multiple residents in the Dubai Marina tower, many of them Western expats, told Gulf News that they were not sure when they would be able to move back in.
People who had been allowed to get their belongings said that some of the apartments showed signs of water damage. Other units were badly damaged.
“There was more or less everything burnt,” said an Italian man who had gone up to a 70th-floor apartment on Saturday morning on behalf of his friends.
“The living room was burnt out, and the furniture [charred],” he recalled. When he informed his friend of his ruined furniture, he said the friend did not seem upset. “What can we do?”
On Friday morning, residents were barred from entering the cordoned-off tower as the Dubai Civil Defence assessed damages.
The residents were housed in nearby hotels, as arranged by Dubai authorities and the tower’s management firm, KingField Owner Association Management Services.
A German resident, who did not wish to be named, said her 17th floor apartment was not affected by the blaze. “I went up and got my most important things, documents, passports, things for work, electronics,” she said.
Since Friday, she has been staying with her friends, instead of staying in one of the nearby hotels.
“My personal lesson is to never know what can happen today or tomorrow,” she said.
“I’m personally thankful that I was not directly affected by the fire, and I’m sorry for the ones who lost everything. The worst thing I saw was to see people on the night that it happened crying, screaming, and panicked.”
At midday on Saturday the pavement outside the tower was strewn with baggage. Residents had been asked by police to show their IDs before being allowed up the tower to gather some belongings. One resident per apartment was allowed to enter.
Many sat in the building’s lobby area while waiting to go up, while police handed out drinks to the residents.
“Our apartment is totally fine,” said a Pakistani tenant who also did not wish to be identified. He had just gone up to his apartment to take his passport and wallet.
“If the Civil Defence will not give us the authority to [go inside] then [his stay at a nearby hotel] will be renewed for one more night ... We just want that they should send us a clear answer.”
One tenant told Gulf News that she and her husband had been told they could stay in their hotel until Monday — depending on when the Civil Defence let people go back in the tower.
In the early hours of Friday morning, shortly after midnight, a total of 475 people were evacuated from the Torch Tower. A total of 38 apartments out of the tower’s 676 units have been burnt in the fire, according to the Civil Defence.
A total of 64 floors were affected by the blaze. The tower, which is clad with aluminium cladding that some experts say is prone to catching fire, has now seen two major infernos.
In February 2015, a fire ripped through the tower’s north facing side. This time, the fire affected apartments on the south-facing corner.
Due to ongoing repair work on the side affected by the 2015 blaze, the tower looks heavily damaged from both angles.
A fire-safety consultancy that operates in the UAE declined to comment on the issue.
Friends in need
On social media networks, where pictures and videos of the blaze spread faster than the flames, businesses and people living nearby offered helping hands.
“If anyone in Marina needs somewhere to stay I have a spare room 3 buildings down … share my post,” Selina Watermans, an expat, posted on Twitter.
“If anyone needs shelter, clothing, anything at all, Twitter community let’s help,” tweeted Sarah Hay, another expat.
The Westin Mina Seyahi, a luxury hotel just footsteps away from the tower, announced it had opened up its ballroom “should you need shelter for the weekend or refreshments.”
Meanwhile, Careem, a ride-sharing app, said on Saturday on Facebook that it would provide free rides from all areas near the fire-hit tower.
Others said that the skyscraper — once the world’s tallest resident building — needed rebranding.
“Hope everyone’s OK from Torch Tower, time to rename the building,” tweeted Maricel Mansano, another Dubai expat.
Experts start probe into fire
Fire experts from forensic engineering department in Dubai Police have started investigation into the reasons behind the Torch tower blaze.
Major-General Abdullah Khalifa Al Merri, commander in chief of Dubai Police, said that several teams of Dubai Police are still securing the tower until the experts finish their work in collecting evidence and investigating the reason behind the fire which happened in early hours of Friday. He said that a mobile police station set up near the tower will register lost and found cases and organise meetings between residents and their embassies.
Major General Khalil Ebrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs, said residents might return back to their flats after the experts finish their jobs. “Within hours, the fire experts will finish their job and then maybe the residents will return to their flats. The experts are trying to locate the source of the fire to establish the reason behind it,” Maj Gen Al Mansouri said.
Dubai Police organised accommodation in three nearby hotels to residents affected by the fire. Maj Gen Al Mansouri said the officers and teams of Dubai Civil Defence, collected expensive goods from inside the damaged apartments and have kept them at a mobile police station for returning them to the owners.