Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Search and rescue operations resumed in Cambodia on Friday morning after a deadly fire engulfed a casino complex in a border town, killing at least 19 people and leaving dozens missing, authorities said.
Cambodian officials expect the death toll to rise following the fire at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet and rescuers who crossed the neighboring Thai border to help told CNN on Friday that more bodies had been found trapped in hotel rooms.
Somboon Kwan-uam of Thailand’s Poh Teck Tung Foundation said smoke levels in hallways were lower on Friday after hampering earlier rescue efforts when many victims were found dead from smoke inhalation locked in their bedrooms of hotel.
“We found seven more bodies in the second floor bedrooms,” Somboon said on Friday.
Some of the bodies of the victims were due to be brought back to Thailand on Friday, he added.
Seventy other people were injured in the blaze, Banteay Meanchey province spokesman Sek Sokhom told CNN.
The cause of the fire remains unknown and the Cambodian government has set up a commission of inquiry, Sek Sokhom said on Friday.
Thai rescue workers who responded to emergency calls from Cambodian authorities said some victims had jumped to their deaths from the burning building in a frantic attempt to escape.
“Two people died immediately after hitting the ground and about four to five (others) broke their legs,” said Peerapan Srisakorn, from the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation.
Videos on the group’s Facebook page showed rescuers wearing helmets and protective gear walking through smoky hallways.
Sek Sokhom said the hotel uses an electrical system for rooms and elevators. So when the fire broke out and the building lost power, many people were stuck in their rooms and couldn’t escape.
About 700 Thai citizens have been rescued and sent to Thai hospitals, authorities said.
Some 300 police officers, 11 fire engines and a number of helicopters were deployed to the scene, according to Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Commissioner, Major General Sithi Loh. The narrow and elevated layout of the hotel made it difficult to fully assess the state of the fire, he added.
Poipet, a transportation hub between Cambodia’s Siem Reap and the Thai capital Bangkok, 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 cross the border to gamble legally.
Photos from the scene on Wednesday night showed huge glowing amber flames and plumes of smoke rising from the compound.
Peerapan, of the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation, earlier told CNN he suspected the fire started in a downstairs restaurant before spreading to other parts of the compound. “Some people ran to the roof, (thinking) the Cambodians might have a rescue crane to help them – but they didn’t,” he said.
Weather conditions may have contributed to the spread of the fire, he added.
“It was very windy last night,” he said. “The fire quickly spread to the upper floors, then to all sides, engulfing the entire building.”
He said he also saw a building lose power and the lights go out.