Death toll in Cambodia casino fire rises to 25, search operation still underway

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The death toll has risen to 25 after a massive fire engulfed a hotel-casino in northwest Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, officials said on Friday.

“This (Friday) morning, rescue teams recovered six more bodies from the charred rooms of the hotel-casino, bringing the number of the dead to 25 so far,” Sek Sokhom, director of the Banteay Meanchey provincial information department, told.

Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen on Friday expressed condolences for the victims, and urged authorities and high-rise building owners to strengthen fire safety and response.

Besides the dead, Hun Sen said 73 others were injured in the fire, which broke out Wednesday midnight at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet, a city near the border of Thailand.

“The fire had been completely extinguished, but a search operation for more victims, who are believed to be dead in the blaze, is still going on,” he said.

Hun Sen also thanked Thailand for sending its emergency response personnel to join the search and rescue operation. According to police, the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

The blaze at the Grand Diamond City hotel-casino in Poipet in Cambodia’s northwest, within view of the Thai border, broke out late on Wednes-day night.

“There are 19 dead so far as we see bodies and bones,” said Sek Sokhom, director of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey provincial information depart-ment. He warned the figure “could be higher” be-cause rescuers have not yet reached parts of the complex.

A volunteer with Thai rescue group Ruamka-tanyu Foundation, who wished to remain anony-mous, said his team arrived at around 2am and saw people jump from the building.

“I witnessed people running out of the building to escape from the smoke,” he said. Others packed onto a rooftop to avoid the flames. “Then we saw some people jumping down,” the volunteer said.

Video 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 Cambodian authori-ties, “including by sending in fire trucks from the Thai side”.

Thai authorities in neighbouring Sa Kaeo prov-ince said more than 50 victims had been hospitalised there.—AFP