Durban – Guests at the Blue Waters Hotel on Durban's beachfront, where a fire broke out on Wednesday morning, said they were fearful after hearing a "small explosion".
"I exited the building, stood in front and heard a small explosion," said one guest, Peter Delport, who was attending a conference.
"There were big balls of smoke coming out. Until we saw the smoke, we hadn’t realised the extent of the situation. It was a short moment of panic."
He said he was on the 16th floor when he heard the alarm go off at 07:16. Thinking it was a fire drill, he grabbed some essentials and got down to the fourth floor, where he saw smoke and smelled electric cords burning.
Speaking to News24 outside the burning hotel, Nolobuyo Fani from Port Elizabeth, who was also in the city attending a conference, said the fire alarm went off just after 07:00, while he was rehearsing his presentation.
"My colleague and I assumed it was just a person smoking. When we looked into the passageway on our floor it was empty."
They took the lift down to the ground floor to have breakfast, and were told to go outside. "As we did so we heard a small explosion and the building shook a little. It was a scary experience."
'I am just glad I am safe'
Another guest, Laurie Butgereit from Johannesburg, said she was out for an early morning walk when the fire started.
"I arrived back at the building and saw emergency services and people coming out. I have to say, the hotel staff were amazing. I just hope we don’t have to walk up stairs when we go in. I hope the electricity is back."
Unathi Ngoco, from Port Elizabeth, realised the fire was serious when she got into a lift to exit the building.
"I was calm until that moment. My roommate and I were told by a woman in the lift that we would not be able to go back to our room because of a fire. I am just glad I am safe."
RescueCare spokesperson Garrith Jamieson said it appeared that a transformer had caught alight on the ground floor, and the smoke permeated the entire building.
Blue Waters duty manager Etienne Jacobs said he could not immediately comment.
"We are just busy sorting out guests and speaking with officials. We will comment at a later stage."