At least 12 people were killed and 75 others injured when a huge fire erupted at Karachi's Regent Plaza hotel early Monday, police and a doctor said.
The blaze broke out in the kitchen located at the ground floor of the four-star hotel located on the city's Shahrah-i-Faisal, and swept through the building, trapping scores of hotel guests in their rooms.
Three trucks from the fire brigade reached the site and started an operation to rescue the guests.
The firefighters were able to contain the blaze after three hours, with 11 people having been killed, said a press release issued by the Saddar Police Station.
No fire exits?
Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar speaking to reporters outside the hotel said the cause of the fire could not be immediately ascertained.
He said the hotel had "no fire exits or fire alarms".
“We have received 11 dead bodies and 75 injured,” Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the emergency services at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, told AFP.
Amongst the injured were people who had fractured bones after jumping from hotel windows to escape, others had been hurt by shattered glass and many were treated for smoke inhalation, she said.
She said six men, including three doctors and the hotel's front desk manager, and five women were among the dead. A couple from Punjab, attending a wedding in the metropolis were also among the dead. Three foreigners affected by the fire are in a stable condition, said Jamali.
Rescue officials recovered another body from the washroom of a room on the second floor on Monday evening.
Most of the country's buildings don't meet safety standards to avoid such mishaps.
TV footage of the incident showed guests at the hotel using bedsheets to climb down from windows.
A man standing at a balcony kept waving for help but the hotel didn't have any means to reach him, a survivor, Hamid Ali, told a local television channel. He said the guests were sleeping when the fire broke out.
“Trapped people showed courage and made ropes of bed sheets and came out one by one, many people have been injured,” hotel guest Saeed ur Rehman, himself wounded in the fire, told AFP.
Guests were left helpless, he said, for hours.
'Fire fighting equipment and exits present'
Fire fighting equipment is present in the hotel according to law and every floor has three emergency exits, claimed the management of Regent Plaza hotel in a statement released.
"The same emergency exits were used by the hotel staff to evacuate more than 500 people, and a member of the hotel staff lost his life during while performing his duty," added the statement.
The hotel management also asked the chief minister and the prime minister to conduct an inquiry regarding the lack of proper equipment available with the fire fighting forces.
'Most people died due to suffocation'
Chief Fire Officer Tehseen Siddiqui told DawnNews that although the blaze was not very intense and was contained "quite early", the smoke kept circulating inside because the air conditioning system stayed on.
"Despite our requests, no one from the hotel management was there who could turn off the air conditioning."
Siddiqui said there was no exhaust inside and due to this "most people suffocated to death".
"No fire exits had been marked inside the hotel... the smoke detectors are there but they aren't functioning. The [hotel's] fire alarm also did not go off," said the fire chief.
He further said that the hotel has now been evacuated completely.
Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Foundation said no one from the hotel management was there to guide rescue workers inside the hotel which was dark.
He said the rescue operation was difficult because people were communicating with trapped guests in Urdu, which some foreigners did not understand.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has ordered the civil defence department to inspect and present a report investigating whether the hotel had the arrangements to extinguish the fire.
UBL players among injured
Cricket players from the United Bank Limited (UBL) team were among those injured in the blaze.
The team, which was staying at the fourth floor of the hotel, woke up to the fire, said Nadeem Khan, head of the UBL Sports Department.
He said bowler Yasim Murtaza's ankle was fractured as he jumped from the second floor to save his life and the player is now recovering at a hospital. Karamat Ali was also injured.
International cricketer Sohaib Maqsood was also staying at the hotel but remained safe in the fire, said Nadeem, adding that Maqsood also helped rescue people. He said the UBL Quaid-i-Azam trophy match against Habib Bank Limited would be postponed today.
Sixteen crew members of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) also sustained injuries in the fire, spokesman Danyal Gilani said. He said most of the crew members have been discharged from hospital while some are still undergoing treatment.