Phnom Penh, Cambodia Health & Fitness Journal —
Victims jumped to their deaths from burning buildings to escape a deadly fire that engulfed a casino in Cambodia on Wednesday, Thai rescue workers said.
Rescuers said at least 11 people were killed, but the death toll was expected to rise from the fire at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet, a town on the border with Thailand.
Patcharin Thaenthong, leader of a Thai rescue team that responded to emergency calls from Cambodian authorities, said some of the victims appeared to have died from smoke inhalation. “When we arrived we couldn’t go in because the fire had already taken over (most of) the buildings,” he said.
About 700 Thai nationals were rescued and taken to hospitals in Thailand, according to authorities.
Crime scene photos show huge bright amber flames and plumes of smoke billowing from the complex.
Peerapan Srisakorn of the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation said he saw people jumping from burning buildings.
“Two people died instantly when they hit the ground and about four to five (others) broke their legs,” he said.
Videos on the group’s Facebook page showed rescue workers in helmets and protective gear walking through smoky corridors.
Peerapan said he also saw at least nine other bodies in the buildings.
He suspects the fire started in a basement restaurant before spreading to other parts of the site. “Some people ran to the roof (thinking) maybe the Cambodians had a rescue 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 then to all sides, engulfing the entire building.”
He said he also saw a building lose power and the lights go out.
It is still unclear whether the fire was completely extinguished.
Patcharin, the rescue chief, said he could still see large amounts of smoke but no more flames.
Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Commissioner Maj-Gen Sithi Loh said 300 police officers, 11 fire engines and a number of helicopters had been deployed.
The cause of the fire is unclear and the hotel’s narrow and elevated structure has made it difficult to fully assess the fire’s status, he said.
Poipet, a transport hub between Cambodia’s Siem Reap and the Thai capital Bangkok, is known for its numerous casinos and is home to many Thais who work in the city’s gambling industry.
Almost all forms of gambling are illegal in Thailand, although it remains a popular vice in the country with many Thais crossing the border to gamble legally.