POIPET, Cambodia (AP) — A massive fire at a Cambodian hotel-casino on Thursday injured more than 60 people and killed at least 19, a number authorities warned will rise after the search for bodies resumed Friday. .
The fire, which started around midnight Wednesday, was put out more than 12 hours later at 2 p.m. Thursday, said Sek Sokhom, head of information department for Banteay Meanchey province. He said more than 60 people were injured and the death toll was expected to rise once rescuers were able to access victims believed to still be under rubble or in locked rooms.
Videos posted on social media showed people falling from a roof after being trapped by fire at the Grand Diamond City casino and hotel in the city of Poipet.
In a video released by Cambodia’s firefighting agency, a crowd could be heard shouting pleas to rescue people trapped on the roof of the hotel complex, which is more than a dozen stories high at its highest point. . Video showed at least one person falling as the flames reached the ceiling.
“Oh, please help rescue them. Pump water, pump water!” the spectators yelled.
The Fire Prevention, Extinguishing and Rescue Department said it heard calls for help at 4 a.m. from rooms on the 13th, 14th and 15th floors. Hands and even a mobile phone flashlight were seen waving from the windows inside the complex.
“The fire was massive and it was inside the casino, so it was difficult for our water cannons to reach it,” a firefighter said in the video posted online by the fire department.
Many of those inside, both customers and staff, were from neighboring Thailand, which sent fire trucks and emergency workers on Thursday to help deal with the crisis in the bustling border city.
An initial investigation found the fire may have been caused by Christmas New Year decorations consuming too much electricity, causing wires to overheat and burn, Sek Sokhom said. Among the dead and injured were people of various nationalities, including Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Cambodian, he said.
A local Buddhist temple was being used to receive their bodies.
The Grand Diamond City casino complex has 500 employees and 1,000 customers on Wednesday, according to a report by Soth Kimkolmony, a spokesman for Cambodia’s National Disaster Management Committee. It was not clear how many were present when the fire broke out.
“Right now, we are trying to bring down the dead bodies from the building. I don’t think there are any survivors due to the very heavy smoke. Even we (rescue personnel) have to wear proper equipment when we enter the building, otherwise we can’t breathe,” said Montri Khaosa-ard, a staff member of Thailand’s Ruamkatanyu Foundation, a social welfare organization that sends volunteers at disaster scenes.
Rescue teams from Thailand and Cambodia worked hand-in-hand to search for the facility on Thursday, but halted their search efforts at the dangerously damaged site when night fell.
Thailand’s public television network, Thai PBS, reported that 50 Thais, both employees and customers, were trapped inside the casino complex. He cited reports that the emergency room at Aranyaprathet Hospital on the Thai side of the border was full and some victims had to be referred to other hospitals.
Poipet, in western Cambodia, is a site of intense cross-border trade and tourism opposite the city of Aranyaprathet, in more prosperous Thailand.
Casinos are illegal in Thailand. Many Thais visit neighboring countries such as Cambodia, a popular tourist destination with convenient international connections, to gamble. Poipet has a cluster of more than a dozen casinos.
The Grand Diamond City Casino is a short walk from the Thai border checkpoint and is popular with patrons making the four-hour drive from the Thai capital, Bangkok.