Thursday , April 25 2024

Dozens dead after fire rips through Cambodia hotel-casino


PHNOM PENH: A massive fire that tore through a hotel and casino in the Cambodian border town of Poipet has killed at least 19 people and injured more than 60, according to an official, while other victims were apparently not yet accounted for.

Videos posted on social media showed people falling from a roof after they were trapped by the blaze at the Grand Diamond City complex. Many of those inside, both customers and staff, were from neighboring Thailand, which sent firetrucks to help fight the flames.

The fire, which started at about midnight on Wednesday, was finally put out at 2pm on Thursday, said Sek Sokhom, head of the information department of Banteay Meanchey province. He said a local Buddhist temple was being prepared to receive the dead.

“There are 19 dead so far as we see bodies and bones,” said Sokhom. About 400 employees and patrons were in the casino when the fire broke out and up to 30 were still missing.

He warned the death toll could rise because some victims were believed to still be under debris or in locked rooms that rescue teams could not immediately access. He added that more than 60 people were injured.

Banteay Meanchey police Chief Sithi Loh said 360 emergency services personnel and 11 firetrucks had been sent to the scene of the fire, whose cause was not yet known. The casino, which is popular with gamblers and visitors from nearby Thailand, employed about 400 workers.

Nhem Phoeng, chief of administration at the municipal offices of Poipet located 400km (250 miles) northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh said the fire killed mostly Cambodian and Thai employees at the casino, according to the Phnom Penh Post news site.

The injured were transported to hospitals in Thailand’s neighboring Aranyaprathet city in Sa Kaeo province.

Thai authorities in Sa Kaeo province said more than 50 victims had been hospitalized there, with public health official Prapas Pookduang telling AFP news agency that 13 people were “on life support”.

‘Pump water’

Video clips shared on social media showed the sprawling building engulfed in flames and what appeared to be people jumping from the burning structure.

In a clip posted by Cambodia’s firefighting agency, onlookers could be heard shouting pleas to rescue people trapped on the roof of the multistory hotel complex. The video showed at least one man falling as the flames reached the roof.

“Oh, please help rescue them. Pump water … pump water,” shouted the onlookers.

The Department of Fire Prevention, Extinguishing and Rescue posted that calls for help were heard from the 13th, 14th and 15th floors at 4am and hands were seen waving from windows as well as a mobile phone’s flashlight signaling from inside the complex.

“The fire was massive, and was inside the casino, so it was difficult for our water cannons to reach it,” observed a firefighter on the video posted online by the fire department. He said that was the reason the fire continued burning for such a long time.

A volunteer with the Thai rescue group Ruamkatanyu Foundation said the blaze started on the first floor but spread quickly along the carpets, leaping up through the building.

The Grand Diamond City is one of a number of casino-hotel complexes clustered along the Thai-Cambodian border. (Int’l News Desk)

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