Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The death toll has risen to at least 19 and dozens remain missing after a fire that engulfed a casino complex in Cambodia on Wednesday, local officials said.
A fire at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet, a city that borders Thailand, has injured another 70 people and the death toll is expected to rise as rescuers search for victims trapped in the building. was Sokom told CNN.
A Thai rescue worker who responded to an emergency call from Cambodian authorities said several victims had died after jumping from burning buildings trying to escape.
“Two people died instantly after hitting the ground and four or five had broken legs,” said Peerappan Srisakorn of the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation.
Peerapan told CNN that his team alone saw 11 bodies. Seven of them died from smoke inhalation and were found in a locked hotel room.
A video on the group’s Facebook page showed rescue workers in helmets and protective equipment walking down a smoke-filled hallway.
Sokom said the hotel used an electrical system in its rooms and elevators, so when a fire broke out and the building lost power, many people were trapped in their rooms and unable to escape.
About 700 Thai citizens were rescued and taken to Thai hospitals, officials said.
About 300 police officers, 11 fire engines and a number of helicopters were deployed to the scene, according to Major General Sithi Loh, Chief of Banteay Meanchey State Police.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, and the hotel’s narrow layout and high elevation make it difficult to fully assess the fire’s circumstances, he said.
A transportation hub between Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, Poipet is known for its multiple casinos and is home to many Thais who work in the city’s gambling industry. Almost all forms of gambling are illegal in Thailand, so many Thais gamble legally across the border.
The rescue team was asked to cease operations on Thursday night, said Somboon Kwanwam, member of the Thai rescue team Pawtectag Foundation.
It was unclear if the fire was completely extinguished.
Somboon told CNN that although there were no more fires in the hotel and casino, thick smoke continued to billow from the building. The Pawtectag Foundation resumed operations in the morning and some of the victims’ bodies are expected to be returned to Thailand on Friday, he added.
Another Thai rescue team, the Ruam Kata Nyuh Foundation, also suspended its nighttime work for safety reasons, the group said on Facebook.
Photos of the scene Wednesday night showed a huge bright amber flame and a plume of smoke rising from the complex.
Peerapan of the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation previously told CNN that he suspected the fire started in the lower-floor restaurant before spreading to other parts of the premises. “Some people ran up to the roof (thinking) that the Cambodians might have a crane to help, but they didn’t have one,” he said.
Weather conditions may have helped the fire spread, he added.
“It was very windy last night,” he said. “The fire quickly spread to the upper floors and engulfed the entire building.”
He also said he saw the building lose electricity and the lights go out.