Fire forces evacuation of cinemas in Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers

A fire in a cinema complex in Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers sent panicked patrons rushing out screaming and coughing in blinding smoke Friday night, witnesses said. No casualties were immediately reported.

About 700-800 people fled the 13-screen Tanjong Golden Village cineplex on the third floor of the Suria KLCC shopping mall attached to the twin towers just before midnight after gray, acrid smoke engulfed hallways, foyers and cinemas, the witnesses said.

"It was really terrible. People were running helter-skelter. We were choking and coughing and it's a miracle there was no stampede," said Minati Panda, who had been watching a movie with her husband at the complex in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known.

Downtown Kuala Lumpur's shining, steel-and-glass Petronas Twin Towers _ once the world's tallest before being upstaged by a building in Taiwan _ are Malaysia's most famous landmark, considered a symbol of the country's economic progress.

One of the towers of 88-story building complex is occupied by national oil company Petronas, and also has the office of former Prime Minister Mahahtir Mohamad, now a Petronas adviser. The other tower has offices of various government and private organizations, including multinational companies

When the blaze broke out the buildings were mostly empty due to the late hour. The only people affected appeared to be cinema-goers and some in a few restaurants, said Panda and other witnesses.

Panda said the movie she was watching had just started when someone opened the theater door, letting in a gush of smoke.

People panicked and rushed out into a hallway, where the visibility was near zero, Panda said. Some were running from other cinemas in the complex, she said.

No flames were visible, "but there is no smoke without fire," she said, adding that there was a burning smell.

From the cinema complex, people ran down one escalator and assembled outside amid public address system announcements urging them to stay calm, she said

Fire trucks arrived about 20 minutes later. Onlookers could see smoke inside the building.

"From the outside it looked like fog," Panda said, adding that there was a lot of activity but no sign the fire was out of control, AP reported. V.A.

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