KARACHI - A pre-dawn inferno at a four-star hotel in Karachi killed 12 people Monday and wounded more than 70, police said, with desperate guests jumping from windows and scrambling down knotted bed sheets to escape.

The blaze at the Regent Plaza Hotel in the centre of the port megacity broke out when many guests were still asleep, with a lack of fire alarms and emergency exits leaving many trapped in their rooms. “The hotel had no fire safety system and no fire exit to evacuate people, they had no fire alarm,” Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar told reporters at the site.

“Trapped people showed courage and made ropes of bed sheets and came out one by one, many people have been injured,” said hotel guest Saeedur Rehman, himself wounded in the fire. Guests were left helpless, he said, for hours. Police have said it took up to three hours to bring the fire under control that is believed to have broken out in a ground floor kitchen of the hotel having more than 400 rooms.

“We have received 11 dead bodies and 75 injured, four women were among the dead,” Semi Jamali, a doctor at Karachi’s Jinnah hospital said. The hotel management, later, said that one of its staffer too died while trying to save others.

Many of the victims had suffered from smoke inhalation or suffocated, Jamali said, but others had cuts or fractures suffered as they leapt from the eight-storey hotel’s upper floors to safety. Some trapped by the spreading blaze had knotted bed sheets together in a desperate attempt to climb out of their rooms, with the makeshift ropes seen dangling from windows at the site.

At least two Pakistani international cricketers were among the guests, one-dayers Sohaib Maqsood and Hammad Azam, though they remained unharmed.

Another two first-class players, who were also at the hotel, got injured. Yasim Murtaza got his heel fractured as he jumped out to save his life and Karamat Ali injured his hand.

Some foreign tourists were also staying at the hotel but it was not clear if any of them was among the victims.

Police Senior Superintendent Saqib Memon confirmed the death toll and said the cause of the fire was unclear, with an investigation launched.

Mayor Waseem Akhtar also told reporters the cause of the fire was unclear.

Many buildings in the country have lax health and safety standards, while the city’s firefighters are often equipped with poor and inadequate equipment. Building fires are often caused by faulty wiring or electrical short-circuits.

However, the hotel management claimed that firefighting equipment was present in the hotel according to law and every floor had three emergency exits.

“The same emergency exits were used by the hotel staff to evacuate more than 500 people, and a member of the hotel staff lost his life while performing his duty,” the hotel statement claimed.

The hotel management also asked the chief minister and the prime minister to conduct an inquiry regarding the lack of proper equipment available with the fire fighting forces.

Chief Fire Officer Tehseen Siddiqui told a private news channel though the blaze was not very intense and was contained “quite early”, the smoke kept circulating inside because the air conditioning system stayed on.”Despite our requests, no one from the hotel management was there who could turn off the air conditioning.” Siddiqui said there was no exhaust inside and due to this “most people suffocated to death”.

“No fire exits had been marked inside the hotel... the smoke detectors are there but they aren’t functioning. The (hotel’s) fire alarm also did not go off,” said the fire chief. He added that the hotel has now been evacuated completely. Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Foundation said no one from the hotel management was there to guide rescuers inside the hotel which was dark.

He said the rescue operation was difficult because people were communicating with trapped guests in Urdu, which some foreigners did not understand. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has ordered the civil defence department to inspect and present a report investigating whether the hotel had the arrangements to extinguish the fire.