Luxury hotel slammed over evacuation chaos

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


Emergency procedures at one of Hong Kong's newest luxury hotels were criticised by angry guests forced to flee their rooms in the middle of the night as a fire raged on the building's rooftop.

They asked why alarms sounded only on certain floors and sprinklers were not activated, and criticised how staff handled the evacuation.

More than 300 terrified guests spilled out of the 828-room, five-star Harbour Grand Hong Kong in North Point just after 3am yesterday as firefighters battled a fierce fire on the roof that sent flaming debris cascading onto a street below.

No one was injured, but one person was taken to Ruttonjee Hospital 'feeling unwell'' and later released.

Guests complained that they were told they might have to pay the full rate of up to HK$3,000 for the night.

The Harbour Plaza Hotels property in Oil Street - opened in June 2009 - is part of the business empire of Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing.

Fire chiefs are still investigating the cause of the blaze on the roof, although there was speculation that water may have caused a short circuit in a big LED advertising display.

Hotel bosses said some guests may not have heard the alarms because the system sounds warnings only on floors directly hit by a fire.

But German businessman Roland Stumpf, who was asleep on the 40th floor of the 41-storey building, said he only realised there was a fire when flames started coming through the ceiling. He heard no alarm.

'I looked out of the window and it was like fireworks were being set off, with flames and sparks flying through the air. No alarm went off and I had to quickly grab my suitcase and get down the stairs,' he said.

Stumpf, 60, said he was shocked that no staff came to his room to warn him of the danger.

Gift importers Pasi Sivonen, 43, and Nina Rantanen, 36, from Finland, were on the 26th floor.

'The biggest problem was that you couldn't hear the fire alarm so no one knew what was going on,' Sivonen said. 'But when I saw the flames outside my window it was clear something was badly wrong. The evacuation was very disorganised.'

British tourist Julia Watson, 38, was also on the 26th floor and said the alarm sounded more like a mobile phone. 'Hearing other people leave their rooms was all that alerted some people to the fire,' she said.

A 200-strong international group, in the city for a World Peace Prayer Ceremony in Victoria Park, was also caught in the chaos. The event has been cancelled because of the fire.

Sa Dingding, a famous singer of folk songs from the mainland, was part of the group, and was staying on the 23rd floor.

'I was terrified the glass would shatter and that I would faint from the smoke,' she said. 'You could see sparks flying past the window.' She said sprinklers were not activated.

Lo Kok-keung, a mechanical engineer at Polytechnic University, said the huge rooftop LED advertising screen may have short-circuited.

Anthony Lam Chun-man, former director of fire services, said the hotel should have made broadcasts to urge guests to evacuate the hotel. But he believes the hotel's fire alarm procedure was correct.