Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Victims jumped to their deaths after burning buildings in a frantic attempt to escape a deadly fire that engulfed a casino in Cambodia on Wednesday, Thai rescue workers said.
Rescuers said at least 11 people died, but the death toll was expected to rise from the fire at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet, a city. bordering 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 of smoke inhalation. “When we arrived, we couldn’t go in because the fire had already taken over (most) of the buildings,” he said.
According to authorities, approximately 700 Thai citizens were rescued and sent to hospitals in Thailand.
Photos from the scene 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 immediately when they hit the ground and four to five (others) had their legs broken,” he said.
Videos on the group’s Facebook page showed rescue workers wearing helmets and protective gear walking through smoke-filled corridors.
Peerapan said he also saw at least nine other bodies inside the buildings.
It is suspected that the fire started in a restaurant on the ground floor before spreading to other parts of the premises. “Some people ran to the roof, (thinking) the Cambodians might have a rescue crane to help, but they didn’t,” 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 not yet clear whether the fire has been completely extinguished.
Patcharin, the rescue leader, said he could still see large amounts of smoke but could no longer see flames.
Banteay Provincial Police Commissioner Meanchey, Major. January Sithi Loh said 300 police officers, 11 fire trucks and several helicopters had been deployed.
The cause of the fire is still unclear, and the hotel’s narrow, elevated design has made it difficult to fully assess the fire’s condition, he said.
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, although it remains a popular vice in the country with many Thais crossing the border to gamble legally.