Monday, April 22, 2024
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Death toll rises and dozens remain missing after Cambodia casino fire

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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 is 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.

People walk near a destroyed part of the hotel-casino on Thursday.

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 had been deployed to the scene, according to Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Commissioner Maj. Gen. Sithi Loh.

The cause of the fire remains unclear and the hotel’s narrow and elevated layout had made 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.

Photos from the scene show huge bright amber flames and plumes of smoke rising from the complex.

Peerapan said 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.

The cause of the deadly blaze has not yet been determined.

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.

It remains unclear whether the fire has been fully extinguished.

“When we arrived, we could not get in because the fire had already taken over (most of) the buildings,” said Patcharin Thaenthong, leader of another Thai rescue team.

He said he could still see large amounts of smoke, but was no longer seeing flames.

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