Durban - In a morning of high drama, Durban firefighters were forced to take cover in an alley way just seconds before an eThekwini sub-station exploded under the Blue Waters Hotel.
Most of the guests in the 18-storey, 264-room hotel had been asleep when the fire alarm went off just before 7am.
Guests and staff were evacuated.
According to the eThekwini Fire Department, a transformer in the electrical sub-station caught alight and then exploded.
Harry Emmanuel and his wife, Shirley, were in their 17th floor room when they heard the alarm.
“This fire alarm was very loud and there was no way one could sleep through. It was deafening. Staff came around knocking at the door. I grabbed a shirt, bag and phones and briskly walked down the staircase,” he said.
He said that two minutes after exiting the building they heard a loud explosion.
“We could feel it from the beachfront promenade. One guy came out, face and hands blackened. He was ushered into an ambulance. There were people in the hotel at the time still coming out,” said Emmanuel, a resident of Australia.
Life 24/7 paramedics spokesman, Leon Fourie, said two men were treated for smoke inhalation and taken to hospital.
Speaking to the Daily News in an ambulance where he was being treated, a man who would only identify himself as Mr McNeill said he opened his door on the 8th floor and was hit by a blast of smoke. He was helped to the exit by firemen.
A woman walking with a crutch was escorted by staff where she was treated at the scene for a medical condition, said Emergency Medical Services spokesman, Robert Mckenzie.
There were 200 guests in the hotel and 120 staff members on duty.
Guests were offered breakfast and the chance to freshen up at a nearby hotel.
Durban fire and emergency acting divisional commander, Justin Bateman, said staff had noticed smoke coming from underneath the door of the transformer room.
“The municipal transformer room is situated between two buildings. When firemen opened the door, there was no fire only flammable smoke.
“A piece of pipe was damaged and was dripping oil onto a metal, causing vapour.
“(The) emergency light came on and that created an ignition source. There was an explosion and three firemen took cover. They made their way through a side alley and out the back entrance. Luckily, none of them were hurt by the flying debris and transformer room door.
“The fire scoured the side of the building five floors up, shattering windows. We had run water lines into the building so we had water in place to contain the fire immediately,” he said.
Blue Waters Hotel director, Jeremy Jiran, said water was being pumping from the transformer room.
The eThekwini Municipality electricity department would advise the hotel on dealing with the electrical supply. Jiran said the transformer room was maintained by the municipality.
“Assessments have to be made to check for any structural damage.”
Jiran praised the fire department, calling their efforts “outstanding”.
“No serious injuries were reported,” he said.