THE AFTERMATH Knotted ropes of sheets and curtains, stained black with ash and human sweat, hung limply from the smashed windows of the hotel yesterday. They spoke volumes of the fear that swept the building in the early hours of the morning, palls of smoke engulfing people as they slept. Broken glass littered the pavement and water dripped from the ceilings of the gutted rooms that became tombs for those unable to escape. Early signs indicate an electrical fault sparked an explosion in the hotel restaurant causing a firestorm of flames and smoke to sweep the building, killing some instantly as they lay in the beds of the 238 yuan (HK$221) a night hotel. Others woke to the screams of fellow tourists gasping for air and using furniture to break the heavy, tinted windows. Signs of the desperation of those trapped inside the inferno were everywhere yesterday as traffic and pedestrians slowed to stare at the shell of the Duan Xi Hotel in the heart of the business district. At one side of the hotel, a small ladder was propped against the side of the building and attached to a nylon sling running into a third-floor room. Some had used the sling to slide down two floors to the ladder, which provided access to an adjacent building. Wet pillows used to filter smoke and smash windows were strewn around the hotel - a testimony to the lengths the men, women and children were forced to go to in their bid to survive. Hotel staff who had not heard the news continued to arrive for work in the afternoon, only to be confronted by a police cordon and instructions to go home. Some left, others stared in disbelief or made efforts to check on the fate of co-workers. A mainland tour bus stood idle as surviving members of the tour recovered from injury or comforted those who had lost loved ones in the blaze.