A huge fire engulfed a Dubai skyscraper on Thursday just hours before New Year’s celebrations were to be held in the city. UAE’s Civil Defence officials said there were no casualties.

The massive blaze quickly shot up the 63-story Address Hotel in the downtown area of the Gulf metropolis, covering nearly the entire structure and sending hundreds of people fleeing for safety.

“The left side of the hotel is completely gone,” Al Jazeera’s Diana al-Rifai reported from the scene. “There’s a minor stampede – panic has set in and people are running away.”

Police closed off the area and emergency teams were working to put out the fire.

The blaze started on the 20th floor of the building and only affected the outside of the structure, Dubai’s media office said.

Rifai said big pieces of the building were falling from the sky and thick black smoke blanketed the entire city. Helicopters were hovering around the blaze, she said.

“Apparently the fire has been put out at the top of the hotel, but lower levels are still burning. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Rifai.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which ran up dozens of stories of the building near the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 828 metres.