More victims recovered from Cambodia casino hotel fire

POIPET, Cambodia (AP) — The confirmed death toll from a massive fire at a casino hotel complex in western Cambodia rose to 25 Friday as the search for victims resumed, authorities said.

The fire at the Grand Diamond City casino and hotel in the Thai border city of Poipet started around midnight Wednesday and was extinguished more than 12 hours later Thursday afternoon.

By Friday morning, 25 bodies had been recovered from the site, according to Sek Sokhom, head of the information department for Banteay Meanchey province. He said six bodies were found Friday morning, some in their rooms and others in the stairwell.

More than 60 people were injured, he said, and the death toll is expected to rise once rescuers are able to access victims believed to be under rubble or in locked rooms.

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 and how many managed to flee to safety.

It has been difficult to get an exact number of the victims due to chaotic rescue efforts and as many of those rescued were rushed across the border for treatment in neighboring Thailand, which has better medical facilities.

Rescue teams from Thailand and Cambodia have been working together to search for the 17-story complex, but halted their efforts overnight at the dangerously damaged site.

Many of those inside, both customers and staff, were from neighboring Thailand, which sent fire trucks and emergency workers to help.

Thailand’s Sa Kaeo Provincial Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office has counted 11 dead, all Thai, and 109 injured, including 57 in hospitals.

Rescuers scoured the charred ruins of a Cambodian hotel and casino complex on December 30 as the death toll from a fire that forced people to jump out of windows rose to 25.
A young man holds a portrait of his mother, who disappeared after the fire.Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP – Getty Images

An initial investigation found the fire may have been caused by New Year’s Eve decorations drawing too much electricity, causing wires to overheat and burn, local authorities said.

Khmer Times, an English-language Cambodian news website, quoted Poipet city governor Keat Hul describing the chaos when the fire broke out.

“Hotel and casino workers used fire extinguishers to stop the fire, but to no avail. People were panicking and running everywhere, but mostly for the nearest exit,” he said. “I was told there was a stampede at the main entrance as a cloud of black smoke was coming through the building.”

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

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 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.

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

He expressed his condolences, saying the incident proved that every tall building in the country should have enough fire-fighting equipment. He also thanked all the people who worked in the rescue efforts, including those from Thailand.