A fire that broke out at a Cambodian hotel-casino on the border of Thailand in Poipet late Wednesday night at midnight has killed at least 15 people and injured at least 50 others. The casualties might increase as dozens of hotel staff and guests are still missing.
Footages shared on social media showed people stuck in the 17-storey building jumping out to escape the scary fire. Officials said most of those that jumped sustained various degrees of injuries, with some breaking their bones.
“They broke their legs and arms,” Mr Sin Sambath, a Cambodian, who was at the scene, told the New York times. “The buildings were completely destroyed by the fire.”
According to reports, at least 400 people were inside the premises when the fire began. Apart from those that died, officials have rescued at least 100 people alive, while others managed to find their way out of the building even if it means sustaining injuries in the process. At the time of this report, officials were working hard to extinguish the fire’s remnant and have significantly curbed its impact. But there are still people not accounted for at this time.
Most of those that died in the inferno were from Thailand. Other countries with citizens inside the hotel at the time of the incident were Indonesia and the Philippines. Most rescued victims were taken to hospitals in Thailand for treatment.
A difficult rescue operation
Cambodian and Thai rescue teams worked together during Wednesday’s deadly fire, being that the incident happened close to the border of the two countries. A Thai television network, Thai PBS, said at least 50 of its citizens were trapped inside the building and that the government of Thailand sent at least five firetrucks and ten rescue vehicles.
In the early hours of Thursday, people trapped in the casino building were seen waving their hands and phone lights to send a message to rescue operators that they were still alive.
Onlookers were screaming and shouting: “Oh, please help rescue them. Pump water… pump water,” but the rescue operators said it was a difficult job to rescue those trapped inside.
“The fire was massive and was inside the casino, so it was difficult for our water cannons to reach it,” a firefighter said. He added that the fire lasted for such a long time because of the situation.
Montri Khaosa-ard, a staff member of a foundation that sent volunteers to the site, said it was unlikely that there were still survivors inside the building as even the rescuers found it difficult to survive amid the thick smoke in the building.
“Right now, we are trying to bring the dead bodies from the building down. I don’t think there will be any survivors because of very thick smoke. Even we all (the rescue team) have to wear proper gear when we go inside the building, otherwise, we cannot breathe at all,” Montri Khaosa-ard said.
There are reports that the death toll has risen to 30 while other sources said it could have risen to 40. However, officials have not released any update at this time.
Families wait with a slim hope
Citizens of Thailand and Cambodia who are yet to see their loved ones are stuck outside as they are hoping to at least get any information about their relatives. Khieu Naron, 63, said she had not received any information about her 22-year-old daughter-in-law.
“I only have 50 percent hope that she has survived,” Naron said. “I am not allowed to get into the building, so I can’t do anything.”
Chana, Khieu Naron’s daughter-in-law, was an employee at the Grand Diamond City hotel, and she works for about 20 hours a day in the hotel and casino.
Casinos in Cambodia
Casinos are illegal in Cambodia and its neighbour Thailand. However, the city of Poipet, where the fire broke out, has at least 20 casinos because foreign passport holders could gamble in casinos in Cambodia. Because of the city’s proximity to Thailand, most Thai cross the borders for gambling purposes. Some of them even drive four hours from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.
At the moment, officials are yet to identify the source of the fire as investigations are still ongoing. However, Southeast Asia country is prone to fire at this time of the year (dry season). The government had initially warned citizens of the increased risk of fires during the period.
The incident was not the first of its kind in that part of the world this year. A fire broke out in a Thai nightclub in August, killing 26 people and another at a karaoke bar in Vietnam, killing 32 people.