A fire at a Cambodian casino has killed at least 19 people and fears many more. A rescuer described how the victims threw themselves off a ledge in a desperate attempt to escape the flames.
The fire at the Grand Diamond City Hotel-Casino in Poipet, within sight of the Thai border, broke out late Wednesday night, Cambodian police said.
“As far as we can see bodies and bones, there are 19 dead,” said Sek Sokhom, director of the information department of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, warning that “the number could be higher” as rescuers have yet to reach parts of the complex.
A volunteer with Thai rescue group Ruamkatanyu Foundation, who asked to remain anonymous, said his team arrived around 2 a.m. ET and saw people jumping out of the building.
“I saw people running out of the building to escape the smoke,” he said, adding that a group was also grabbed onto a roof to avoid the flames.
“Then we saw some people jump down,” he said.
Video showed the building engulfed in flames, with firefighters struggling to contain the blaze and rescuers trying to pluck people from a burning ledge.
In one clip, an unidentified man sits on a windowsill with smoke billowing behind him. In another, a group of people huddle on a ledge as flames approach.
A Thai Foreign Ministry source said they have been coordinating closely with local authorities, “including through the dispatch of fire engines from the Thai side”.
Thai authorities in neighboring Sa Kaeo province later said more than 50 victims were hospitalized there and local health official Prapas Pookduang told AFP 13 people were “on life support”.
Sa Kaeo Governor Parinya Phothisat said about 60 other people involved in the fire have already been screened and cleared by Thai hospitals.
He said Thai hospitals treated 79 Thai nationals, 30 Cambodians and eight Indonesians.
The Ruamkatanyu Foundation volunteer said the fire started on the first floor but quickly spread through carpets and cracked through the multi-story building.
Naphat Klonkliang, an official at the foundation, told AFP news agency they found two bodies.
“The rescue team struggled in the beginning and the main reason was the smoke,” the official said.
Some victims were believed to still be under rubble or in locked rooms that rescue teams didn’t have immediate access to, so the death toll was likely to rise, said Sokhom, who told the Associated Press that firefighters eventually put the blaze down around 2 a.m. local time on Thursday. Rescue work continued after the fire was extinguished, he reportedly added, noting that a preliminary investigation suggests the fire may have been caused by overloading the New Year’s decorations, which used more electricity and caused wires to overheat and burned.
The Department of Fire Prevention, Extinguishing and Rescue said at 4 a.m. cries for help could be heard from the 13th, 14th and 15th floors and hands waving out of windows, as well as a cell phone flashlight signaling from inside the complex.
“The fire was massive and was inside the casino making it difficult for our water cannon to reach it,” observed a firefighter in video posted online by the fire department. He said that’s why the fire burned so long.
Hotel casino hotspot
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and its citizens are officially forbidden from gambling in its casinos.
But there are numerous hotel-casinos clustered along the Thai border, with Poipet being a popular holiday destination for visitors from Thailand, where most forms of gambling are also illegal.
The fire was followed by two more fatal incidents at entertainment venues in Thailand and Vietnam this year.
In August, a fire broke out at a Thai nightclub, killing 26 and injuring scores more.
The following month, a fire in southern Vietnam killed 32 people at a karaoke bar.
There have long been concerns about the region’s lax approach to health and safety regulations, particularly in its myriad of bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues.
A massive inferno broke out at a New Year’s Eve party67 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
The owner of Santika was sentenced to three years in prison for the fire, which started when fireworks were set off when a rock band was playing on stage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/casino-fire-cambodia-deaths-injuries-victims-jump/ At least 19 dead in Cambodian casino fire as victims jump off ledge to escape blaze