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KARACHI: The shards of glass from broken window panes have been swept off the floors but every now and then you feel a crunch under your shoes as you step on tiny pieces of glass here and there.

The carpeting in the halls is also wet and squish under your feet.

The white mosaic floors are also covered in water mixed with soot in many places especially the emergency staircase behind the kitchen on the ground floor, which catered to room service. The kitchen was where the fire started.

There is a constant smell of smoke in your nose.

We are inside the Regent Plaza Hotel, where 12 people, including the hotel’s night duty manager, lost their lives and over 80 were injured when a fire broke there in the early hours of Monday morning.

The hotel staff is busy tidying and cleaning up the place the day after the tragic incident.

The swimming pool in the middle of the hotel courtyard has been cleared of broken glass and some of the staff are busy washing the wood furniture to rid it of soot.

The indoor and shade-loving plants around it are also burnt though some cactus plants are still alive.

The broken tinted brown widow panes are yet to be replaced though. They had been broken by panicked hotel guests after they realised that the hotel was on fire.

But other than the broken windows, the upper floors, where the rooms are located are fine as the fire never reached there though they had been filled with smoke.

Although the kitchen on the ground floor has gas appliances and plenty of things that could have caught fire from the stove, the hotel management believes that the fire was started by a short circuit in the ground floor kitchen where there are plenty of electrical appliances such as microwave ovens, fridge and freezers.

“Big hotels need big freezers for storage. We suspect that the fire started in one of our freezers on the ground floor,” the hotel’s manager for administration and security Major Mohammad Saad said.

The ground floor kitchen is completely destroyed with wall panels, false ceiling and air-conditioning ducts all burnt to coal.

And from there the fire spread to their Almas and Jharoka restaurants. The kitchen has an emergency exit leading to the swimming pool courtyard. The two restaurants, too, overlook the pool.

And smoke from there went directly up to the rooms above where the guests in their panic started breaking the windows to jump out.

“It was more panic than lack of safety measures, which complicated matters during the fire,” he said.

Asked if there was any fire alarm system in the rooms to alert the guests, he said there was and the alarm must have gone off, too, but for 30 to 40 seconds before the electric wires burnt up due to the short circuit. “So most guests weren’t woken up by the alarm,” he said.

Earlier, one injured guest had told Dawn that when he tried calling the reception to find out what was going on, no one was picking up the phone, which made him feel completely alone and on his own.

“The reception was filled with smoke and the staff there was helping in the evacuation procedure,” said Major Saad.

“We lost our night duty manager Babar Ilyas in the fire, too. He guided many people to the hotel’s emergency exits because lifts are not recommended for use in such situations but he inhaled too much smoke in the process and succumbed. We just returned from his burial today,” he added.

He also said that as per international standards for high-rise buildings, there should be one emergency exit.

“But Regent Plaza has three,” he said while showing the one from the basement car park which also has fire extinguishers and an emergency fire water pump system with clear signs with arrows on the walls.

Another such exit is seen in the form of a staircase from the hotel rooms which opens outside directly onto Rafiqui Shaheed Road.

Yet another emergency exit is from the huge Kohinoor Hall, which also leads directly to Rafiqui Shaheed Road. All the exit points clearly have exit written above them, too.

The hotel has 450 rooms for guests. Its administration says that there were some 600 guests staying there at the time of the fire.

“Had the emergency exits not been there, we would be mourning more than 12 deaths today. Yes, firefighters did help many escape through ladders placed outside their room windows, but they did not evacuate all 600 people that way. Most still left through the emergency exits,” said Major Saad.

A fire cabinet with smoke masks, gloves, fire-proof shirts has also been broken open with an axe and is missing most of its contents proving that the stuff was used obviously.

“We do hold regular fire drills at our hotel and our staff knew how to use these things in such an emergency, which they did obviously,” the manager for administration and security said.

Published in Dawn December 7th, 2016