DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A fire in a Dubai high-rise apartment building on Thursday triggered nightmarish images reminiscent of Sept. 11, with a construction worker falling to his death and dozens of workers trapped above the blaze trying to scale the building's exterior.
Two laborers, including the one who fell, building the unfinished structure were killed and 57 others injured when the 37-story apartment tower caught fire, said Dubai Police Maj. Rashid al-Falasi.
Witnesses said the scene reminded them of the burning World Trade Center towers in New York, with panicked workers trapped on the skyscraper's unfinished upper stories. Some said they saw a man fall to his death while trying to descend the building's glass-covered exterior.
"Some of the workers were trying to climb down on cables. One guy in red was trying to climb down and then he just fell. It was horrible," said Louise Olson, 25, from Denmark, who watched the scene from her whirlpool bath in a high-rise that faces the burning tower.
"It was kind of like 9/11," said Steven Wullinger, 35, a German who saw the falling man.
Al-Falasi confirmed that one worker died in a fall. Another was killed in the building by a severe head injury apparently suffered while fleeing the smoke, he said. The man was dead by the time rescuers found him, al-Falasi said.
Three of the 57 injured men were hospitalized in serious condition Thursday night, al-Falasi said.
As hundreds of onlookers on the street below watched stunned, firefighters struggled in a dramatic rescue, smashing skyscraper windows to reach a man perched for more than an hour on a narrow 13th floor ledge. The crowd cheered as rescuers grabbed the man and tugged him to safety.
"He was panicked and not responding. They used psychology to keep him calm," al-Falasi said. "Then they used ropes and a ladder to bring him in."
Black smoke billowed for about two hours from the upper floors of the blue-glass building, located in a cluster of dozens of apartment towers under construction on Dubai's southern outskirts.
Trapped laborers in blue coveralls could be seen waving towels at hovering helicopters or climbing to the roof on scaffolding.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, al-Falasi said.
Witnesses said the fire broke out around 12:30 (07:30 GMT) and burned for at least an hour before fire trucks arrived on the scene. Al-Falasi acknowledged that heavy traffic slowed the response.
Attempts by Dubai's inexperienced emergency services to extinguish the fire and rescue the trapped workers appeared disorganized. A rescue helicopter was unable to land on the building's roof, and firefighters on the ground took hours to start evacuating workers out from a 10th story window, even after most of the smoke had dissipated.
It was not immediately clear why those trapped near the roof were unable to make their way to lower floors.
The injured laborers were from India, Pakistan and China; most suffered from smoke inhalation, Al-Falasi said.
The fire is bound to trigger discussions on upgrading Dubai's emergency services to handle high-rise rescues in a city with hundreds of such towers. A skyscraper intended by its builders to be the world's tallest when finished, reached its 100th story this week.