83 warehouses gutted in Al Quoz blaze; 2 dead, 3 injured

Riyasbabu And Amira Agarib (Our staff reporters)
Filed on March 27, 2008

DUBAI — Two workers were killed, three injured and several were reported missing after a massive fire broke out following an explosion in a fireworks warehouse in Al Quoz. Eighty-three warehouses in the vicinity, too, have been gutted, according to Civil Defence officials.

The Quick Intervention Unit teams of specialised fire-fighters from almost all the emirates were pressed into service to help contain the blaze.

According to Major-General Saif Al Shaafar, Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, the explosion was caused due to friction among the fireworks that were being loaded onto a truck for transportation.

He pointed out that the fireworks had been smuggled into the country through various sea entry points.

The Dubai Police have detained the owner of the warehouse, he said, refusing to disclose the identity or the name of the company that owns the warehouse. Major-General Khamis Mattar Al Mazina,Director of the General Department of Criminal Investigation, said the owner of the warehouse has confessed to having brought the fireworks illegally into the country.

The accused will be referred to the Dubai Public Prosecution soon, he added.

Investigations are on to ascertain how the fireworks were smuggled into the country and through which entry points.

Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel, which aired exclusive footage of the explosion, showed a huge fireball shooting around 100 metres into the air, followed by a massive eruption of smoke and ashes.

According to residents living in the area, the fire-fighters had managed to bring much of the blaze under control by late evening. However, thick black fumes continued to billow from the site till the time of going to Press. Confirming the casualties, the Civil Defence official said: “We can confirm two persons dead and three injured. Rescue operation is still under way and I hope no more people are trapped inside,” said a police officer on the spot. The injured were rushed to Rashid Hospital. The body of the Filipino worker was taken to the morgue while the other worker who suffered severe injuries died in the hospital.

Rescue officials said that they were searching for more people trapped inside the warehouses. Low visibility continued to be a hindrance to rescue operations, Khaleej Times was told.

Youssef Jabbour, Chairman of Emirates Insurance Association, an expert in loss assessment who was on the spot, said: “This was one of the biggest fire incidents in the history of UAE. At least a minimum of Dh600 million loss can be estimated.”

Maj-Gen. Al Shaafar, however, estimated the losses to be around Dh900 million.

The massive explosion, Civil Defence officials said, occurred around 7am followed by minor explosions, causing the fire to spread to other units in the vicinity. At least 150 fire-firefighting units and hundreds of fire-fighting personnel were deployed to put out the blaze. Police blocked all the roads leading to the area and at least 10 rescue units were rushed to the spot.

Grand Shopping Mall, which is located close to the accident site, was immediately evacuated as a preventive measure, a Civil Defence official on the spot told Khaleej Times. Eye-witnesses said they heard a massive explosion followed by smaller ones and the entire area was enveloped with thick black smoke. “I was taking a passenger from Grand Mall when the first explosion occurred. I was completely shaken by the sound and lost my sense of hearing for some time,” said Abdul Nasser, a taxi driver in Dubai Transport.

Soon after the explosion, Nasser said, fire started to spread in the entire vicinity. Another resident in the area said it was shocking to see a ball of fire in the sky and fireworks around the industrial area. Later, the entire area was engulfed by thick black smoke emanating from the fire. He pointed out that cars parked in the neighbourhood were covered by soot.

Roads in the area remain blocked and public transport buses plying in the affected areas were diverted to alternate routes. Workers living in labour camps in the area were seen walking up the entire stretch to reach their accommodations. Several office-goers in the area were also forced to park their cars at a distance and walk up to their offices.

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