Georgia vows punishment after hotel blaze kills 11

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The hotel has been scheduled to be a venue for the Miss Georgia beauty contest on Nov 26. PHOTO: AFP

TBILISI (AFP) - Georgian leaders have vowed to punish those responsible for a blaze that killed 11 people at a five-star hotel in Georgia's Black Sea resort city of Batumi.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who was returning Friday to the Georgian capital Tbilisi from a summit with EU leaders in Brussels, diverted his plane to Batumi upon learning of the fire at the posh 22-storey Leogrand hotel.

He pledged a prompt investigation into the cause of the blaze.

"All those responsible for this tragedy will be punished," he said late on Friday.

Officials on Saturday (Nov 25) revised down the death toll after initially putting it at 12 people.

"Eleven people died as a result of the fire" in Georgia's second-largest city of Batumi late Friday, the Caucasus nation's interior ministry said in a statement.

The victims - 10 Georgians and an Iranian - all died of smoke inhalation, the interior ministry said.

Twenty one people were hospitalised, mostly with carbon monoxide poisoning, and were in a stable condition, it added.

Five Turkish nationals and an Israeli were among those injured, regional health minister Zaal Mikeladze said.

The bodies of eight of the victims - all of them men - were found in an elevator, another body in a swimming pool and two more in a gym, Georgia's Interpress news agency reported, citing the victims' relatives.

"It took just minutes for the smoke to fill the entire hotel," one of the hotel guests, Kakha Mikiashvili, told journalists.

"The electricity went off and all the doors were automatically blocked. We were trying in vain to break windows to get some fresh air," he was reported as saying.

"Firefighters arrived in a few minutes and we were saved." Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili offered his condolences to the victims' families.

Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia told journalists that an investigation had been launched into the "breach of fire safety norms" in the hotel which reportedly lacked a fire escape staircase.

Seventeen fire engines, 120 firefighters, and 200 rescue workers were sent at the site, Gakharia added.

Twenty participants of the Miss Georgia beauty contest were staying at the hotel when the fire erupted, said Ia Kitsmarishvili, head of a model agency that sought to organise the event.

"None of them has been injured, they have all been evacuated on time," she said in televised remarks.

The contest, which had been due to be held in Batumi on Saturday, was postponed, she added.

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