NEW DELHI — Huge flames shot up from the hotel’s rooftop. Thick smoke clogged the hallways.

As panicked guests searched for a way out, they found, to their terror, that the emergency exits were locked.

This is how witnesses and government officials described the scene inside a five-story hotel in central New Delhi as fire swept through its corridors on Tuesday morning, killing at least 17 people.

Some guests said they had to lean out their windows to breathe — the smoke was that thick. Others were trapped in engulfed rooms and climbed out of their windows and jumped, with some suffering severe injuries.

A preliminary investigation indicated that the fire, at the Arpit Palace Hotel, in the heart of India’s capital, was caused by a short circuit. Some guests said that the power had abruptly cut out around 3:30 a.m., and that when it returned, smoke began to fill the hallways.