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Fire at Rome hotel

May 3, 2004

A fire broke out at a luxury Roman hotel early Saturday, killing two Canadians and an American, fire officials said.

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Lleyton Hewitt was due to arrive at the five-star Parco dei Principi in Rome for the Italian Open just hours after fire ripped through the luxury hotel, killing three people and forcing the evacuation of many of the world's best tennis players.

American Andy Roddick was hailed a hero after helping guests escape the blaze, which started at about 5am on Saturday.

Hewitt, whose racquet stringer was staying at the hotel, had been expected to book in later that day. Instead, Australia's former world No. 1 and other players were directed towards the nearby Sheraton.

The hotel manager said Hewitt's Davis Cup teammate Mark Philippoussis had not been booked in at the Parco dei Principi. Hewitt and Philippoussis are in Rome for the Italian Open, which starts today.

Roddick's Davis Cup teammate, Robby Ginepri, 21, said: "We didn't find Andy for a while because he couldn't get out. He was on the sixth floor, so he stayed on the balcony of his room.

"Some people were on the seventh floor and he helped them come down because the ladder on the firetruck didn't reach that far. His balcony was enormous, so he let people come in there.

"There was a ton of smoke in the corridor and you couldn't even see more than five feet ahead of you. Everyone was running frantically, trying to find the exit. We saw flames coming from three different sides of the building. Windows were shattering, with glass everywhere."

Ginepri said he had been on the fourth floor, "right above the fire".

The victims included James Lawery, 57, from Georgia in the US, who apparently fell as he tried to climb down from the fifth floor using sheets tied together. His wife reportedly used the emergency stairs and escaped unharmed. An elderly Canadian couple, named as Paul and Bernice Busque, also died in the blaze, which is being treated as suspicious.

Local media reports say two American women have been questioned by police.

Up to 30 players were staying at the Parco dei Principi, one of Rome's best-known hotels where rooms cost up to $1200 a night.

Sjeng Schalken, the Dutch No. 1, climbed down from the sixth to the fifth floor before being plucked to safety by firemen using a crane, and Marat Safin, the former US Open champion, and his girlfriend were trapped in a corridor but managed to escape. Like many players, he was left with nothing more than the clothes he stood up in. Roddick's racquets are said to have melted in the heat.

Thailand's Paradorn Scrichaphan escaped after he received an urgent phone call from his father, who was staying on a different floor, telling him to get outside.

First person account by Tommy Haas (posted on his website)

Rome. What a night. At 5. 30 in the morning Red gave me a call. He said, that I should get my passport and my money and that there is a fire in the hotel. I could smell the fume, already. I got dressed. I left my room and I saw an old couple panicing in the hall way. They were looking for the emergency exit. We didn´t know where the fire was in the hotel. So, I ran downstairs from the 5th floor. The smoke was getting stronger and stronger. I had a hard time breathing. Later, we realized that the fire was on the 4th floor. The air was getting better when I reached the 3rd floor. And I was just happy to get outdoors and to see Red.

Andy was waiting for one hour on his balcony

The problem was, that not all the guests could leave their rooms early enough. There was too much smoke. So, they went on their balconys to get help. Andy Roddick was in the room next to me, which I found out later on. He was lucky to stay in a suite that had a big balcony. He was waiting for one hour. Sjeng Schalken and his girlfriend climbed onto Andy´s balcony as well. One guest tried to rope down on his sheets from the 5th floor and fell down. That´s one of three people who unfortunately died this morning. Those were terrible pictures. I felt like I was in a bad movie.

In compare to Max Mirnyi for example I was really lucky. All of his clothes burned down. His room was on the 4th floor, where one of the fire sources was. My clothes smells like fire – but that´s all. Nothing burned down. Now, a couple of hours later I realize how lucky I was. What, if I would have forgotten to unplug my computer of the phone line. Red couldn´t have called me. Who knows how long I would have slept… Well, we checked in another hotel, I´m going to sleep for an hour, now. Later, I´m gonna practice.

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