Cambodia hotel fire kills at least 19

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A massive fire at a Cambodian hotel-casino that lasted more than 12 hours has killed at least 19 people and injured more than 60, while other victims were apparently not yet surveyed Thursday. Neighboring Thailand has sent fire engines and rescue workers to help deal with the crisis in the busy border town of Poipet.

Some victims are believed to still be under debris or in locked rooms that rescue teams cannot immediately access, so the death toll is expected to rise, said Sek Sokhom, head of the information department. of the province of Banteay Meanchey. He said more than 60 people were injured.

The dead and injured included people of multiple nationalities, including Thais, Chinese, Malaysians, Vietnamese and Cambodians, he said. A local Buddhist temple was used to receive their bodies.

Videos posted on social media showed people falling from a roof after being trapped by the fire at the Grand Diamond City casino and hotel in the city of Poipet. Many of those inside, both patrons and staff, were from neighboring Thailand.

In a video released by the Cambodian firefighting agency, onlookers could be heard shouting calls to rescue those trapped on the roof of the resort, which has more than a dozen floors at its highest point. . Video showed at least one man falling as flames reached the roof.

“Oh, please help save them. Pump water, pump water! shouted the onlookers.

The Department of Fire Prevention, Extinguishing and Rescue said calls for help were heard from the 13th, 14th and 15th floors at 4 a.m. and hands were seen waving from the windows as well as a flashlight from a cell phone 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 firefighters. He said that was the reason the fire kept burning for so long.

The fire, which started around midnight Wednesday, was finally extinguished at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sek Sokhom said, adding that the rescue operation was continuing.

He also said an initial investigation revealed that the fire may have been caused by an overload due to New Year’s decorations which were drawing more electricity, causing wires to overheat and burn.

Banteay Meanchey Police Chief Sithi Loh said earlier that 360 rescue workers and 11 fire engines had been dispatched to the scene of the blaze, the cause of which was not yet known.

“At the moment we are trying to bring the bodies down from the building. I don’t think there will be any survivors because of the very thick smoke. Even all of us (rescue personnel) have to wear proper equipment when entering the building, otherwise we can’t breathe at all,” said Montri Khaosa-ard, a staff member of the Thailand Ruamkatanyu Foundation, a charity organization. aid that sends volunteers in disasters. scenes, said Thursday afternoon.

Thai and Cambodian rescue teams worked side by side as they searched the badly burned premises on Thursday.

Thailand’s state broadcaster, Thai PBS, reported that 50 Thais, employees and customers, were trapped inside the casino complex. He said Cambodian authorities had requested help in dealing with the blaze from Thailand, which sent five fire engines and 10 rescue vans.

Poipet in western Cambodia is opposite the city of Aranyaprathet in wealthier Thailand, and cross-border trade and tourism are very active.

Thai PBS cited reports that the emergency department at Aranyaprathet Hospital was full and more victims needed to be sent to other hospitals.

Casinos are illegal in Thailand, but neighboring countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are home to the lucrative industry. Cambodia has a particularly active casino industry as the Southeast Asian country is also a popular tourist destination with convenient international connections.

A report received from Soth Kimkolmony, spokesperson for the Cambodian National Committee for Disaster Management, said the Grand Diamond City casino complex had 500 employees and had 1,000 customers on Wednesday. It was not known how many were present when the fire broke out.

The casino is just a few meters from the border checkpoint with Thailand and is popular with customers making the four-hour journey from the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Associated Press reporter Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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