By HENG SINITH and SOPHENG CHEANG
POIPET, Cambodia (AP) — The search for bodies in the wreckage of a burned-out casino hotel complex in western Cambodia has concluded with 26 people confirmed dead, a senior official said on Dec. 30.
Banteay Meanchey province Governor Um Reatrey told The Associated Press by phone that after 39 hours of rescue and search operations, there were also 57 injured survivors from the Dec. 28 fire at the Grand Diamond City casino and hotel in the town of Poipet.
Seventeen of the dead were from Thailand, one each from Nepal, Malaysia, and China, and six bodies were yet to be identified, he said.
The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office of Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, just across the border from Poipet, said there had been 27 deaths—26 in Cambodia and one in a Thai hospital. It said of the 112 people injured, 27 remained in hospitals and 85 had returned to their homes.
Thailand, which provided firefighting and rescue assistance, was where many of the injured were taken for treatment. Thais made up a large proportion of the guests and employees at the casino complex.
The Grand Diamond City casino complex has 500 employees, and it had 1,000 customers on the day of the fire, according to a report from Soth Kimkolmony, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s National Committee for Disaster Management. It was unclear how many were present when the fire broke out, and how many managed to flee to safety.
Many of the injured had been rushed across the border for treatment in neighboring Thailand. An initial investigation found that the fire may have been caused by New Year’s holiday decorations that drew too much electricity, causing wires to overheat and burn, local authorities said.
Khmer Times, a Cambodian English-language 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 rushing about everywhere but mainly for the nearest exit,” he said. “I was told that there was a stampede out at the main entrance when black smoke was billowing through the building.”
He was quoted as saying he believed many of the deaths came from smoke inhalation and some people died when they leapt from high stories to escape the flames.
Poipet in western Cambodia is a site of busy cross-border trade and tourism opposite the city of Aranyaprathet in more affluent Thailand.
Casinos are illegal in Thailand. Many Thais visit neighboring countries such as Cambodia—a popular tourist destination with convenient international connection —to gamble. Poipet has more than a dozen casinos.
The Grand Diamond City casino is just a short walk from the border checkpoint with Thailand and popular with customers who make 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 at a road repair ceremony in the southern province of Kampot.
He expressed his condolences and said the incident showed that all tall buildings in the country must have sufficient equipment to fight fires. He also gave thanks to all the people who worked in the rescue effort, including those from Thailand.