Friday, January 27, 2023

Ten killed, scores injured in huge hotel-casino fire on Cambodian border

Ten killed, scores injured in huge hotel-casino fire on Cambodian border

POIPET, Cambodia (AFP) - About 10 people are dead and more than a dozen on life support after a fire at a Cambodian border casino, with photos from the scene showing people desperately huddled on ledges and perched on windowsills in a bid to escape the flames.

The blaze at the Grand Diamond City hotel-casino in Poipet, on the Thai border, broke out late Wednesday night, Cambodian police said.

A provisional police report seen by AFP put the death toll at "about 10" and the number of injured at 30.

But Thai authorities in neighbouring Sa Kaeo province later said that more than 50 victims had been hospitalised there, with public health official Prapas Pookduang telling AFP that 13 people were "on life support".

Sa Kaeo Governor Parinya Phothisat said another 60-odd people caught up in the conflagration had already been checked and cleared by Thai hospitals.

Images obtained by AFP 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 coordinating closely with local authorities, "including by sending in firetrucks from the Thai side".

Governor Parinya said Thai hospitals had treated 79 Thai nationals, 30 Cambodians and eight Indonesians.

A volunteer with Thai rescue group the Ruamkatanyu Foundation said the blaze started on the first floor but spread quickly along the carpets, leaping up through the multi-storey building.

Hotel-casino hotspots

Cambodia is one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries and its citizens are officially barred from gambling in its casinos.

There are numerous hotel-casinos clustered along the Thai border, with Poipet 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 neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam in 2022.

In August, a fire broke out at a Thai nightclub killing 26 people and injuring scores more.

And in September, a blaze broke out in southern Vietnam, killing 32 people in a karaoke bar.

Concerns have long been raised over the region's lax approach to health and safety regulations, particularly in its countless bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues.

A massive inferno erupted at a New Year's Eve party at Bangkok's swanky Santika club in 2009, killing 67 people and injuring more than 200.

The owner of Santika was jailed for three years over the blaze, which began when fireworks were set off as a rock band played on stage.