Death toll rises and dozens remain missing after Cambodia casino fire
The death toll has risen to at least 19 and dozens of others remain missing after a fire engulfed a casino complex in Cambodia on Wednesday, according to local authorities.
Another 70 people were injured in the blaze at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet, a city that borders Thailand, and the death toll was expected to rise as rescuers search for victims who were trapped in the building, Banteay Meanchey province spokesman Sek Sokhom told CNN.
Thai rescue workers who responded to emergency calls from Cambodian authorities said some victims had jumped to their deaths from the burning building in a frantic attempt to escape.
“Two people died immediately when they hit the ground and around four to five (others) broke their legs,” said Peerapan Srisakorn, from the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation.
Peerapan told CNN his team alone saw 11 bodies, including seven who had died from smoke inhalation and were found in locked hotel rooms, and said it was very difficult for rescue workers to survey the building as it was full of thick smoke.
Videos on the group’s Facebook page showed rescue workers in helmets and protective gear walking through smoke-filled corridors.
Sokhom said the hotel used an electric system for rooms and elevators, so when the fire started and the building lost electricity, many people were stuck in their rooms and could not escape.
Approximately 700 Thai citizens were rescued and sent to hospitals in Thailand, according to authorities.
Some 300 police officers, 11 fire trucks and a number of helicopters were deployed to the scene, according to Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Commissioner Maj. Gen. Sithi Loh.
The cause of the fire is not yet known and the hotel’s narrow and elevated layout hamade it difficult to fully assess the status of the blaze, he said.
Poipet, a transport hub between Cambodia’s Siem Reap and the Thai capital Bangkok, is known for its multiple casinos and is home to many Thais who work in the city’s gambling industry. Almost all forms of gambling are illegal in Thailand so many Thais cross the border to gamble legally.
Rescue teams were asked to suspend operations on Thursday evening, according to Somboon Kwan-uam, a member of the Thai rescue team, Poh Teck Tug Foundation.
It was unclear whether the fire had been fully extinguished.
Somboon told CNN he was no longer seeing fire at the hotel and casino, but that thick smoke was continuing to flow from the building. The Poh Teck Tug Foundation will resume operations in the morning and some of the bodies of the victims are expected to be transported back to Thailand on Friday, he added.
Another Thai rescue team, the Ruamkatanyu Foundation, also suspended their work for the night due to safety reasons, the group said on Facebook.
Photos from the scene on Wednesday night showed huge bright amber flames and plumes of smoke rising from the complex.
Peerapan, from the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation, earlier told CNN he suspected the fire started at a lower floor restaurant before spreading to other parts of the compound. “Some people ran to the rooftop, (thinking) that the Cambodians might have a rescue crane to help – but they didn’t have one,” he said.
Weather conditions may have helped the fire to spread, he added.
“It was very windy last night,” he said. “The fire spread up quickly to the upper floors and then to every side, engulfing the whole building.”
He said he also saw a building lose electricity and the lights go off.