More victims recover from Cambodia casino hotel fire

poipet – The confirmed death toll rose to 25 as a fire broke out at a casino-hotel complex in western Cambodia on Friday as the search for victims resumed, officials said.

The fire at the Grand Diamond City Casino and Hotel in the Thai border town of Poipet started around midnight on Wednesday and was extinguished more than 12 hours later on Thursday afternoon.

As of Friday morning, 25 bodies had been recovered from the scene, according to Sek Sokhom, head of Banteay Meanchey provincial information department. He said six bodies were found Friday morning, some in their room and others on the stairs.

More than 60 people were injured, and the death toll was expected to rise once rescuers were able to access victims believed to be lying under the rubble or locked in rooms, he said.

The Grand Diamond City casino complex, which has 500 employees, had 1,000 patrons on Wednesday, according to a report by Soth Kimkolmony, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Committee of Cambodia. It was not immediately clear how many people were present when the fire broke out, or how many managed to get to safety.

An accurate toll on casualties has been difficult to come by amid the chaotic rescue efforts, as many rescued were rushed across the border to neighboring Thailand, where medical facilities are better.

Thai and Cambodian rescue teams had been working side by side to search the 17-storey complex but halted their efforts overnight at the dangerously damaged site.

Many of those inside, including customers and staff, were from neighboring Thailand, which sent fire trucks and emergency personnel to help.

According to statistics from the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office of Sa Kaeo Province in Thailand, 11 people died, all of whom were Thai, and 109 people were injured, 57 of whom were in the hospital.

Local authorities said initial investigations found the fire may have been caused by excessive power consumption by New Year’s holiday decorations, causing wires to overheat and burn.

Khmer Times, an English-language news website in Cambodia, quoted Poipet mayor Ji Hur as describing the chaotic situation when the fire broke out.

“Hotel and casino staff used fire extinguishers to put out the flames, but to no avail. People panicked and ran around, but mostly to the nearest exit,” he said. “I was told there was a stampede at the main entrance as black smoke billowed through the building.”

He was quoted as saying he believed many died from smoke inhalation and some died while jumping from tall buildings to escape the flames.

Poipet in western Cambodia is a busy cross-border trade and tourist destination, opposite the wealthier Thai city of Aram.

Casinos are illegal in Thailand. Many Thais travel to neighboring countries such as Cambodia — a popular tourist destination with good international links — to gamble. There are more than a dozen casinos in Poipet.

The Grand Diamond City Casino is just a short walk from the Thai border checkpoint and is popular with customers who drive four hours from the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made his first public comments on the tragedy on Friday morning, speaking to villagers at a road-building ceremony in the southern province of Kampot.

He offered his condolences and said the incident showed that all high-rise buildings in the country must be adequately equipped to fight fires. He also thanked all those involved in the rescue effort, including those from Thailand.

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Associated Press Writer Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul in Bangkok contributed to this report. Sopheng Cheang reported from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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