Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Search and rescue operations resumed in Cambodia Friday morning following the deadly fire that engulfed a border city casino complex, killing at least 19 people and leaving dozens unaccounted for, according to authorities.
Cambodian officials expect the death toll to rise from the blaze at the Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino in Poipet and rescuers who crossed the nearby Thai border to help told CNN Friday that more bodies had been found trapped inside hotel rooms.
Somboon Kwan-uam, with Thailand’s Poh Teck Tung Foundation, said smoke levels in the corridors were lower Friday after hampering earlier rescue efforts when many of the victims were found dead from smoke inhalation locked inside their hotel rooms.
“We found seven more bodies from rooms on the second floor,” Somboon said Friday.
Some of the victims’ bodies were expected to be transported back to Thailand Friday, he added.
Another 70 people were injured in the blaze, Banteay Meanchey province spokesman Sek Sokhom told CNN earlier.
The cause of the fire remains unknown and the Cambodian government has set up a committee to investigate, Sek Sokhom said 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 when they hit the ground and around four to five (others) broke their legs,” said Peerapan Srisakorn, from the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation.
Videos on the group’s Facebook page showed rescue workers in helmets and protective gear walking through smoke-filled corridors.
Sek Sokhom said the hotel used an electric system for rooms and elevators, so when the fire started and the building lost electricity, many people were stuck in their rooms and could not escape.
Approximately 700 Thai citizens were rescued and sent to hospitals in Thailand, according to authorities.
Some 300 police officers, 11 fire trucks and a number of helicopters were deployed to the scene, according to Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Commissioner Maj. Gen. Sithi Loh. The hotel’s narrow and elevated layout had made it difficult to fully assess the status of the blaze, he added.
Poipet, a transport 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 bright amber flames and plumes of smoke rising from the complex.
Peerapan, from the Aranyaprathet Rescue Foundation, earlier told CNN he suspected the fire started at a lower floor restaurant before spreading to other parts of the compound. “Some people ran to the rooftop, (thinking) that the Cambodians might have a rescue crane to help – but they didn’t have one,” he said.
Weather conditions may have helped the fire to spread, he added.
“It was very windy last night,” he said. “The fire spread up quickly to the upper floors and then to every side, engulfing the whole building.”
He said he also saw a building lose electricity and the lights go off.