KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A fire in a movie complex in Malaysia's iconic Petronas Twin Towers late Friday triggered panic among patrons who fled screaming and coughing in the thick, acrid smoke, witnesses said. No serious injuries were reported.
About 700-800 people rushed from the 13-screen Tanjong Golden Village facility on the third floor of the Suria KLCC shopping mall in the towers shortly before midnight after smoke engulfed hallways, foyers and the cinemas, witnesses said.
"It was really terrible. People were running helter-skelter. We were choking and coughing and it's a miracle there was no stampede," said Minati Panda, a Kuala Lumpur resident who was watching a movie with her husband when the incident occurred.
The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. One woman was seen being taken to an ambulance, where she was given oxygen.
The glass-and-steel Petronas Twin Towers, once the world's tallest before being upstaged by a building in Taiwan, are located in downtown Kuala Lumpur and are Malaysia's most famous landmark, symbolizing the country's economic progress.
The 1,483-foot buildings, which house offices and a shopping mall, were largely empty because of the late hour and the only people affected appeared to be moviegoers and some diners in a few restaurants, according to Panda and other witnesses.
Panda and other patrons said no fire alarm sounded and the water sprinklers did not work. There were also no cinema employees to guide people out, said Afisuddin Hafifi, a government lawyer who had been watching a movie.
Fire engines arrived about 20 minutes after the smoke was detected.
"I am very angry. The cinema management was slow to act," Hafifi said. "There were lots of children in the theaters and there was huge panic."
Fire officials did not immediately speak to reporters. Firefighters were searching the building to see if any people were trapped inside, a paramedic said.
Panda said the movie she was watching had just started when someone opened the theater door, letting in a rush of smoke.
Panicked people then ran into the hallway, where the visibility was near zero, said Panda. People were running out from other theaters as well, she said.
No flames were visible, she said, adding that there was a pervasive burning smell.
Idris Abdullah, a 45-year-old restaurant owner, who was watching a movie with his two sons, said they smelled burning electrical wires as they were fleeing.
"But there was no fire alarm sound, nothing. People around us started to run and we just followed them. Nobody knew what was happening. It was really bad. It was so smoky we couldn't see," he said.
People ran down one working escalator to the exits and assembled outside amid announcements over the public address system urging them to stay calm, she said.
"From the outside it looked like fog," she said, adding that there was a lot of activity but no sign that the fire was burning out of control.
One of the towers is occupied by Petronas, Malaysia's national oil company, and also has the office of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, now a Petronas adviser. The other tower has offices of various government and private organizations including multinational companies.