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Friday
Aug042017

Resident recalls escaping burning Dubai skyscraper: 'Adrenaline takes over completely'

Souraya Momtaz(DUBAI) -- It was 12:45 a.m. Friday when Souraya Momtaz, a 21-year-old graphic designer, was jolted awake by a deafening alarm in Dubai's Torch Tower. She said she remembers the time very precisely because she checked it on her phone, the only possession she had time to grab before she had to flee.

"I jumped out of bed, put a pair of pants on and my shoes, took a jacket in case I needed to protect myself from the fire, grabbed by phone and ran out," Momtaz told ABC News. "In that situation, you don't think, you just go and you keep going down those stairs until you get out. Adrenaline takes over completely. And then you collapse."

With 86 floors, the Torch Tower is one of the tallest residential buildings in the world and early Friday morning, firefighters were called to a massive fire that had broken out there.

Momtaz, who lives on the 59th floor, said she could only hear the alarm ringing as she quickly dressed. Just a week before, she said the fire alarm had gone off, but only lasted a few seconds before turning out to be a false alarm.

So when the alarm started ringing this time, Momtaz said she was not sure whether it was a real emergency.

But once she realized her floor was mostly empty, she said it dawned on her that something was not right.

She said she joined about 17 other people in the staircase. Among them were two fathers with small children and two 20-something women in their pajamas.

Everyone was rattled and trying to get out as fast as they could, Momtaz said, but sprinklers hadn't activated and the group couldn't hear any fire marshals giving guidance.

"People were helping each other down the stairs, trying to reassure each other, making sure everyone was accounted for and no one was left behind."

Yet the journey down was nerve-wracking. At different junctions, she said they smelled more and more smoke, which made them wonder whether the fire was below or above them.

"When we got to the 40th floor, we smelled more smoke and we weren't sure what was happening. Then on the 25th, the smell seemed to get stronger again. We kept going because we didn't want to get stuck," Momtaz recalled.

It took Momtaz 15 minutes to make it out. When she reached the ground floor, she said she was ushered out by police through a side entrance because the main door was too exposed to falling debris.

Once she was outside, it was clear why.

"Huge chunks of cladding were falling off ablaze, and as soon as they hit the railing on the balconies of the lower levels, the fire would spread," Momtaz said.

Momtaz said the firefighters that she saw arrived shortly after 1 a.m., a timeline confirmed by the Dubai Media Office's Twitter feed. The fire was declared under control an hour later.

There have been no reported injuries or fatalities. The origin and cause of the fire remain unknown as investigators continue to look into what happened. The fire caused external damage over 64 floors, according to local authorities, and 38 apartments caught fire.

Parallels were already being drawn with the fire that ravaged Grenfell Tower in London in June and killed at least 80 people, bringing more scrutiny to the adequacy of the cladding used on such tower blocks. A fire broke out in the Torch in 2015, and the damage it causes is still being repaired.

"We all joke about the name of the tower and the fire -- well, now the two fires -- that happened," Momtaz said.

Local authorities and the building management said they were already placing residents in nearby hotels, and more residents have signed up for alternative housing this morning as they surveyed the damage.

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