DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The Middle East’s biggest shopping mall was partially evacuated Thursday as maintenance crews scrambled to contain a leak that amateur video showed spilling water out of the shark-filled aquarium.
The footage posted on the Web site of Dubai newspaper Gulf News showed the water from the 2.6 million gallon tank showering down on the mall’s polished floors.
Visitors were kept far from the scene shortly after the water began pouring from behind the 2-1/2 foot (0.75 meter) thick viewing panel, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the damage. From a distance, most of the water and fish appeared to be contained inside the tank.
“There has been a small break in the glass,” an official at Dubai’s civil defense department said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the operation was ongoing.
Emaar confirmed the aquarium breach in a brief emailed statement Thursday afternoon.
“A leakage was noticed at one of the panel joints of the Dubai Aquarium at The Dubai Mall and was immediately fixed by the aquarium’s maintenance team,” the company said. “The leakage did not impact the aquarium environment or the safety of the aquatic animals.”
The incident raises fresh questions about building safety in the city-state. Less than three weeks ago, the mall’s developer, Emaar Properties, cut off public access to its record-breaking skyscraper Burj Khalifa after an elevator got stuck near the 124th-floor observation deck.
The company added that it “upholds the highest safety standards in its management.” It did not make anyone available to comment further.
Much of the area around the aquarium was evacuated and has been cordoned off. Three mall security employees were seen entering the area wearing orange life jackets.
An employee working for the offsite ticket office, Samia al-Rajaby, said by phone that the aquarium was being closed for the day as maintenance crews work. She had no further details.
Shopkeepers near the aquarium said they were ordered to close their stores and evacuate the area for fear of further flooding while the aquarium is repaired. “They told me that the aquarium exploded,” an employee of a nearby shoe store that was ordered shut said on condition of anonymity, because she did not want to jeopardize her business. “We feel upset because it’s the end of the month and the start of the weekend and we were expecting many customers,” she said.
However, Alena Markovich, a manager of a clothing store that remained open for business Thursday, said the security response was swift and appropriate. “They are doing their best,” she said.
The Dubai Mall and its signature aquarium opened in November 2008.
The shark, stingray and fish-filled tank is located on the mall’s ground floor, next to upscale clothing shops and not far from an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink and the only international branch of high-end retailer Bloomingdale’s.
The aquarium contains 2.6 million gallons (10 million liters) of water, and measures 164 feet (50 meters) across and 36 feet (11 meters) high. It boasts the world’s largest acrylic viewing panel.
Mall owner Emaar is also the builder of the neighboring Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower that opened last month.
The skyscraper has since been closed to the public after visitors had to be pulled from the elevator shaft after one of the elevator cars got stuck. Emaar has not described the cause of the problem in detail, saying that “unexpected high traffic” and power supply problems were to blame.