At least 19 people were killed and many others are feared dead in a fire at a Cambodian casino, officials said, with a rescuer describing how victims hurled themselves from a ledge in a desperate bid to escape the flames.
The blaze at the Grand Diamond City hotel-casino in Poipet in Cambodia’s northwest, within view of the Thai border, broke out late on Wednesday night.
“There are 19 dead so far as we see bodies and bones,” said Sek Sokhom, director of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey provincial information department. He warned the figure “could be higher” because rescuers have not yet reached parts of the complex.
A volunteer with Thai rescue group Ruamkatanyu Foundation, who wished to remain anonymous, said his team arrived at around 2am (0730 GMT) and saw people jump from the building.
“I witnessed people running out of the building to escape from the smoke,” he said. Others packed onto a rooftop to avoid the flames.
“Then we saw some people jumping down,” the volunteer said.
Video showed the building consumed by flames, with firefighters struggling to contain the blaze and rescuers attempting to pluck people from a burning ledge.
In one clip, an unidentified man is seen sitting on a window ledge as smoke billows out from behind him. In another, a group of people huddle on a ledge as flames draw near.
A Thai foreign ministry source said they had been co-ordinating closely with Cambodian authorities, “including by sending in fire trucks from the Thai side”.
Thai authorities in neighbouring Sa Kaeo province said more than 50 victims had been hospitalised there. Local public health official Prapas Pookduang told AFP 13 of them were “on life support”.
Sa Kaeo Governor Parinya Phothisat said roughly another 60 people caught up in the fire had already been checked and cleared by Thai hospitals.
He said Thai hospitals had treated 79 Thai nationals, 30 Cambodians and eight Indonesians.
The Ruamkatanyu Foundation volunteer said the blaze started on the first floor but spread quickly along carpets, leaping up through the multistorey building.
Naphat Klonkliang, an officer with the foundation, told AFP they had retrieved two bodies.
“The rescue team were struggling in the beginning and the main reason was the smoke,” the officer said.
Around 100 rescuers swarmed the complex throughout the day, some donning heavy protective gear to search the building for survivors.
Rescue crews prepared to stop for the night as evening fell. “Working under these conditions is dangerous,” said Satit Surungsit, 53, from the Thai Poh Teck Tung Foundation rescue group.
Cambodia is one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries and its citizens are officially barred from gambling in its casinos.
But there are many such hotel-casinos clustered along the Thai border. Poipet is a popular holiday destination for visitors from Thailand, where most forms of gambling are also illegal.
The blaze follows two other fatal incidents in entertainment venues in Thailand and Vietnam this year.
A fire in a Thai nightclub in August killed 26 people and injured scores more. A blaze in a karaoke bar in southern Vietnam killed 32 people the following month.
Concerns have long been raised over the region’s lax approach to health and safety regulations, particularly in its countless bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues.