A fire at a luxury hotel in the Georgian Black Sea resort city of Batumi on early Saturday left 11 people dead and 21 others injured.
Georgian Interior Ministry announced that the victims were 10 Georgian nationals and an Iranian man. Those hurt included Israeli and Turkish nationals. Initial reports suggested that Turkish nationals were among the dead, however, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that only five Turks were wounded in the fire.
Zaal Mikeladze, health minister of autonomous republic of Adjaria, told Turkey's official Anadolu Agency that four of the five injured Turks were discharged from hospitals later on Saturday.
The fire erupted late Friday evening at the Leogrand Hotel and Casino where participants in the Miss Georgia 2017 beauty pageant were having dinner. The competitors, who were located at the hotel's spa center when blazes surrounded the hotel, were not among the victims of the fire.
Survivors stated that the fire erupted in the hotel's boiler room after an explosion, and quickly spread to upper floors. Later reports said that the fire might have erupted in the gym located at the third floor.
The 22-storey hotel, which was opened two years ago and named among the city's best hotels, is owned by Turkish businessman Erol Avgören, who also has hotel investments in Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The 185-room hotel was built for $35 million.
The cause of the fire was not clear, but the Interior Ministry suggested that fire regulations had not been adhered to during its construction. There was no fire escape, for example. However, Russian TASS news agency reported that all 20 beauty pageant participants escaped unhurt using a fire escape ladder. At least 100 other guests and employees also escaped.
Reports claimed that the hotel was fined couple of months ago due to lack of a fire protection system.
Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia told journalists that an investigation had been launched into the "breach of fire safety norms" in the hotel. Seventeen fire engines, 120 firefighters, and 200 rescue workers were sent at the site, Gakharia added.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who stopped off in Batumi on his way back from a trip to Brussels, said that those responsible for the disaster would be severely punished.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili offered his condolences to the victims' families.
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."
Famous Turkish singer Cengiz Kurtoğlu, who was scheduled to perform in the hotel on Friday night, was also rescued by firefighters. A native of Turkish province of Artvin bordering Georgia, Kurtoğlu and his wife were reportedly having dinner with Avgören and a couple of friends in a suit at the fourth floor when fire broke out. The group fled to a balcony located at the floor to save their lives, reports said.
Batumi, which is the capital of the autonomous republic of Adjaria and the second largest city in Georgia, is located only 17 kilometers away from the border with Turkey. Batumi Airport serves a domestic airport for Turkey's northeastern provinces. The city is a popular getaway destination for tourists from Turkey, where gambling is illegal, and Turkish nationals have invested heavily in the city's tourism sector over the last decade.