What it was like to escape the Kandawgyi Palace inferno

Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Yangon early on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YE AUNG THU
Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Yangon early on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YE AUNG THU

Bangkok resident David Powers, 40, his wife, and daughter were staying at the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Yangon last night while they visit friends here. In the early hours of the morning, the family was awakened as flames engulfed the hotel. David and his family made it out safely, but one guest was killed in the blaze. David told Coconuts Yangon what it was like to be there that night.

I woke up at 2am and had a hard time getting back to sleep.

Just as I was beginning to doze off, I could hear someone shouting and loud footsteps running down the hall. Our room was on the first floor on a wing just off of the main building. As such, the outer wall was semi-open, and the hallway was tiled. This made the shouting and footsteps reverberate. At first, I was quite annoyed, thinking the noise was coming from people who were really drunk and possibly arguing.

After a few minutes, I got up and opened the door to tell them to keep the noise down. As soon as I stepped out I could finally understand through a thick German accent that there was a fire and everyone needed to leave. There was no alarm of any kind, but I could smell burned wood in the air, so I stepped back inside to get my family. My wife had the same thought as me and said they were just drunk. I told her that I smelled smoke and that we needed to leave. At that point, she jumped up and threw on some clothes, as did I.

We grabbed our passports, wallets, and phones, and scooped up our four-year-old daughter. We were headed back to the lobby, not knowing that’s where the fire was, and someone told us to go the other way. We did, and a lady guided us to an area that looked like it was normally used by employees. My wife, who was carrying out daughter, slipped and fell on some wet stone. I asked if she was okay, and when she said she was, helped her up and picked up our daughter.

We followed the path down, and it lead us behind the Japanese restaurant next to the hotel. I’ll never forget looking up and seeing the night sky turned red. The embers floating through the sky looked like hellish snowflakes.

Once we got across the street we could really see how bad the fire was. That was when I snapped a few pictures and took some video. The wind began blow toward us, and the flames quickly grew. We walked up the street, away from the fire, and stood there in shock for a few minutes. Another family we had spoken to at the pool the day before stood there too; we nodded but didn’t speak.

I knew we had to get away, so we got a taxi to take us to the Sedona Hotel, since I knew we were going to have to buy clothing and it was across the street from Myanmar Plaza. The night staff at the Sedona was very accommodating when we told them what happened, and they have helped make us feel as comfortable as possible ever since we’ve been here.

I’ve read about the people injured and the man who died, and my heart goes out to them and everyone else affected by this. I hope everyone finds peace and comfort.

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