A massive fire broke out in a hardware store in Malé this evening, spreading to surrounding buildings and engulfing several blocks in a thick black fog as plumes of smoke rose skyward.
The fire broke out around 4:20pm at the two-storey Coastline Hardware store – located on the main thoroughfare of the densely populated capital – and took the military’s fire and rescue service nearly four hours to put out.
Loud blasts were heard as the flames shot through the roof while the store’s metal and glass walls collapsed. The fire quickly spread to a shop next door as well as adjacent homes, fanning out despite the rain.
A lamp post and an electricity box also caught fire and the state electricity provider cut off power in the area.
The store completely burned down an hour later as the fire and rescue team struggled to douse the flames with water hoses. A fire lorry from the state-owned airport company was eventually brought over and used to bring the fire under control with foam spray.
The cause of the fire remains unclear. According to the police, no one was injured but a policeman was taken to the hospital after dislocating his shoulder.
Firemen, police officers, and members of the public worked together to carry off parked vehicles and evacuate nearby buildings.
Some 23 people, including several children, took refuge at an evacuation centre at the National Disaster Management Centre, the state broadcaster reported.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar told Television Maldives that arrangements were being made to temporarily move the displaced families to guesthouses in Malé.
He suggested that the presence of chemicals and flammable substances in the store might have posed difficulties for firefighters. The fire and rescue team first tried to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to adjacent homes, Shareef said.
Smoke was still spewing out of the ruins of the store around 9:30pm.
Maldivians reacted to the fire with growing alarm on social media with many sharing photos and videos of the unfolding disaster.
Several expressed concern over the lack of building safety codes as well as the readiness of the authorities to handle a large-scale disaster in the congested capital.
The Maldives Medical Association meanwhile advised avoiding exposure to smoke and fumes, which they said could be particularly harmful to people with pre-existing lung conditions such as asthma, young children, and the elderly.
— Maldives Media (@MaldivesMedia) April 18, 2016
— Aslu Meehaa (@AsluMeehaa) April 18, 2016
— Naif Naeem (@nAAYf) April 18, 2016
— VitalCare (@VitalCareClinic) April 18, 2016
— Anas Nasheed (@anasnasheed) April 18, 2016
— [̲̅i̲̅][̲̅h̲̅][̲̅u] (@ihuziv) April 18, 2016
— Salvine (@salvine) April 18, 2016
— Nathalish™ (@Nathaliish) April 18, 2016
— Shi Han (@shihan969) April 18, 2016
— Sassy (@sassy_shuhu) April 18, 2016
30 mins to respond to the fire. 2 hours to get foam. Meanwhile spreads fire more with H2O. But hey at least they showed up #coastlinefire
— Mohamed Nazeel (@demoleez1) April 18, 2016
Despite the lack of resources we have here, the brave fire fighters are risking their lives, let’s hope the fire is out soon! #CoastlineFire
— Inna (@Innakins) April 18, 2016
Pic of the day and msg of the day 💛
— Luke (@Lucasjalyl) April 18, 2016
— Naaisha (@naaisha) April 18, 2016
Anyone with a sound mind wouldn’t disagree that current state of Male’ poses a lot of challenges and exacerbates risk in times of disaster.
— iCiman (@iCiman) April 18, 2016
Male’ decongest kurumuge siyaasatheh ekulavaalaa thanfeezu kurun lasvessvejje. Misarukaaraku evisnumeh nei. pic.twitter.com/fTvAHGRE1Z
— Mohamed Maleeh Jamal (@maleehjamal) April 18, 2016
— Ehab (@EhabAbdulla1) April 18, 2016
— Musal (@FoniLunbo) April 18, 2016
— toma (@saltedtoma) April 18, 2016
— Abdulla Rifau Bochey (@RifauMP) April 18, 2016
— AYYU with RN (@Ayum4nn) April 18, 2016