Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Victims jumped to their deaths after burning buildings in a frantic attempt to escape a deadly fire that engulfed a casino in Cambodia on Wednesday, Thai rescuers said.
Rescuers said at least 11 people were killed, but the death toll is expected to rise due to the fire at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet, a city which borders Thailand.
Patcharin Thaenthong, leader of a Thai rescue team that responded to emergency calls from Cambodian authorities, said some of the victims appeared to have succumbed to smoke inhalation. “When we arrived we couldn’t get in because the fire had already taken over (most) of the buildings,” he said.
About 700 Thai citizens have been rescued and sent to Thai hospitals, authorities said.
Photos from the scene show huge bright orange flames and plumes of smoke rising from the complex.
Peerapan Srisakorn of the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation said he saw people jumping from burning buildings.
“Two people died immediately when they hit the ground and about four to five (others) broke their legs,” he said.
Videos on the group’s Facebook page showed rescuers wearing helmets and protective gear walking through smoky hallways.
Peerapan said he also saw at least nine other bodies inside the buildings.
He suspects the fire started in a downstairs restaurant before spreading to other parts of the compound. “Some people ran to the roof, (thinking) the Cambodians might have a rescue crane to help them – but they didn’t,” he said.
Weather conditions may have contributed to the spread of the fire, he added.
“It was very windy last night,” he said. “The fire quickly spread to the upper floors, then to all sides, engulfing the entire building.”
He said he also saw a building lose power and the lights go out.
It is still not known if the fire has been completely extinguished.
Patcharin, the rescue chief, said he could still see large amounts of smoke, but no longer saw any flames.
Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Commissioner Major General Sithi Loh said 300 police officers, 11 fire engines and a number of helicopters had been deployed.
The cause of the fire remains unclear and the narrow, elevated layout of the hotel made it difficult to fully assess the state of the fire, he said.
Poipet, a transportation 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, although it remains a popular vice in the country, with many Thais crossing the border to gamble legally.