26 bodies found as search ends at hotel fire scene in Cambodia

POIPET, Cambodia –

The search for bodies in the rubble of a burned-out casino hotel complex in western Cambodia has ended with 26 people confirmed dead, a senior official said late Friday.

Banteay Provincial Governor Meanchey Um Reatrey told the Associated Press by phone that after 39 hours of search and rescue operations, 57 survivors were also injured in Wednesday night’s fire at the Grand Diamond City casino and hotel. in the town of Poipet.

He said 17 of the dead were from Thailand, one from Nepal, Malaysia and China, and six bodies have yet to be identified.

The Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation of Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, just across the border with Poipet, said 27 people had died – 26 in Cambodia and one in a Thai hospital. It said of the 112 injured, 27 were still in hospital and 85 had returned to their homes.

Thailand, which supports fire fighting and rescue, is where many injured people are taken for treatment. Thais make up a large percentage of guests and staff at the casino complex.

Searchers did not find new bodies on Friday afternoon at the disaster site, although more dead are expected to be found.

The fire at the Grand Diamond City complex began on Wednesday night and was extinguished more than 12 hours later on Thursday afternoon.

According to a report from Soth Kimkolmony, spokesman for Cambodia’s National Commission for Disaster Management, the Grand Diamond City casino complex had 500 employees and 1,000 customers as of Wednesday. It is unclear how many people were present when the fire broke out, and how many fled to safety.

Many of the injured were brought across the border for treatment in neighboring Thailand. That, coupled with the chaotic rescue efforts, made it difficult to estimate the exact number of casualties.

Thai and Cambodian rescue teams have come together in the search for the complex of two buildings. Governor Um Reatrey said 1,009 Cambodian staff and 221 people from Thailand had assisted in the search effort.

Thailand’s Ruamkatanyu Foundation, a social welfare organization that sends volunteers to the disaster site, said on Friday the search operation in the main 17-story building of the casino complex was complete and they are withdrawing their teams. It said its searchers were unable to enter the more heavily damaged six-story section of the complex because it was too unsafe.

Local authorities said initial investigation indicated that the fire may have been caused by New Year’s Eve decorations consuming too much electricity, causing the wires to overheat and catch fire.

Khmer Times, a Cambodian English-language news website, quoted City Governor Poipet Keat Hul as describing the chaos as the fire broke out.

“Hotel and casino staff used fire extinguishers to put out the fire, but it didn’t work. People panicked and ran everywhere but mainly looking for the nearest exit,” he said. “I was informed that there was a stampede at the main entrance as black smoke billowed across the building.”

He was quoted as saying that he believed many of the deaths were due to smoke inhalation and that some people died jumping from high floors to escape the flames.

Poipet in western Cambodia is a busy cross-border trade and tourism site opposite the more affluent Thai city of Aranyaprathet.

Casinos are illegal in Thailand. Many Thais go to neighboring countries like Cambodia – a popular tourist destination with convenient international connections – to gamble. Poipet has more than a dozen casinos.

Grand Diamond City Casino is just a short walk from the border checkpoint with Thailand and is popular with customers who are a four-hour drive from the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made his first public comments on the tragedy while addressing villagers on Friday morning at a road repair ceremony in the southern province of Kampot.

He expressed condolences and said the incident showed that all high-rise buildings across the country must be fully equipped with fire fighting equipment. He also thanked everyone who worked in the rescue effort, including those from Thailand.


Writer Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul of the Associated Press in Bangkok contributed to this report. Sopheng Cheang reporting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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